New Spaceship Could Fly People to Private Space Stations

New Spaceship Could Fly People to Private Space Stations
Helping to pave the road for the future of commercial spaceflight, Boeing is hard at work on the research and development of a new space capsule aimed at flying people to the International Space Station. (Image credit: Boeing)

Aerospaceheavyweight Boeing is advancing plans for its new capsule-based spaceship, designedto ferry people to and from the International Space Station and future private spacestations. The capsule design is part of an effort to fill the void that will beleft by the 2011 retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet. ?

Thenew Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft (CST-100) is part of the company's$18 million award from NASA under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) SpaceAct Agreement. The award aims to advance the concepts and technology requiredto build a commercial crew space transportation system. ?

Boeing's capsule design is one of several efforts by different U.S. companiesto develop the first private spaceship capable of flying humans to space. Thepush fits in with President Barack Obama's new plan for NASA, which calls forcommercial spacecraft to take over the role vacated by the space shuttles of transporting astronauts to the space station.

Takingcues from the past

Newartist's renderings of Boeing's CST-100 capsule were unveiled July 19 in amedia briefing at the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough,England. [Video: Boeing's New Spacecraft]

Boeing'snew spaceship design will look similar to NASA's cone-shaped Apollo and Orion spacecraft.

TheApollo capsules were built to fly astronauts from Earth to the moon in the late1960s and 1970s. The larger Orion vehicles were part of NASA's Constellationprogram to return astronauts to the moon, which was cancelled by PresidentObama as part of his new proposal. The Obama administration did resurrectOrion, though, to serve as a space station lifeboat.

TheCST-100, which can carry up to seven people, will be bigger than the Apollospacecraft but smaller than the Orion capsule. It is designed for shortmissions to space, and the "100" in the name stands for 100kilometers (62 miles) ? the distance from the ground to low-Earth orbit that itwill travel.

Boeingplans to launch the CST-100 capsule from Florida, but has yet to determinewhich rocket will carry it into space. The spacecraft is being designed forcompatibility with a variety of different rockets, including United LaunchAlliance's Atlas and Delta boosters, and SpaceX's Falcon rockets.


WhileNASA could be the main user of the CST-100 capsule, the space agency iscertainly not the only customer that Boeing has in mind. The company has teamedup with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that joined the CommercialSpaceflight Federation in June.

Boeinghopes to use the CST-100 capsule to take people to and from the BigelowAerospace Orbital Space Complex ? a commercial space station the company isbuilding.

BigelowAerospace is developing private inflatable space habitats with the goal of launching the first private spacestation in 2014. The company has already launched two prototype modules intospace.

Forthe new CST-100 spacecraft, Bigelow Aerospace will assist with demonstrationsand design work in areas where they have cultivated experience from the designand construction of their orbital facilities and commercial space complex,according to officials at Boeing.

Thepartnership between Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace also represents an importantstepping stone toward creating a robust commercial spaceflight industry, thecompanies said.

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.