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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Boeing Considers More Dollars in CST-100 spacecraft to compete with SpaceX Dragon

Atlas-V with CST-100
Mike Leinbach, director of human space flight operations for ULA and former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson suggest that Boeing management may make a larger corporate investment in its under development CST-100 human-rated spacecraft to "significantly"speed the first astronaut launches prior to the now planned late 2016 target. It would be a welcome move to get two commercial carriers with astronauts on launch pads by mid-decade.
 
"We’re looking heavily into getting some additional Boeing investment to move that (late 2016) date to the left significantly, which we think we need to do to keep pace with SpaceX,” Ferguson said while Leinbach noted, “It’s just a question of time," in an interview with Florida Today.  Both men were envisioning the Boeing CST-100 capsule filled with a crew riding an Atlas-V to low earth orbit.
 
 CST-100 closes on Bigelow station
The ULA Atlas V rocket is being upgraded and human-rated to boost the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft to carry as many as seven astronauts to the International Space Station or other orbital destinations, such as a Bigelow inflatable space station. The first test is targeted for 2016.
 
Commercial space launch competitor SpaceX aims to launch a piloted test flight of an upgraded Dragon in mid-2015. The Atlas-V and Boeing CST is planning its first human piloted flight in late 2016. The hint of greater Boeing investment may sqeeze the timeline to provide market competition to SpaceX.

A deeper private investment by Boeing would also be welcome news to Bigelow Aerospace as it seeks to perfect its business plan of hiring taxis to ferry international commercial researchers to private inflatable space laboratories later this decade. Interestingly, the CST 100 was developed as part of a partnership between Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace.

Though Boeing has received millions of dollars from NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development program, the company has maintained that it needs a destination besides the ISS to make the program financially viable for Boeing. Enter Bigelow, who have been working to bring inflatable, commercially produced space stations to orbit and subsequently working directly with Boeing on the CST-100 development.

Rendering of a Bigelow inflatable attached to International Space Station
Discussions have been underway for the past two-years to attach a Bigelow inflatable habitat to the International Space Station by mid-decade.

CST-100 at Bigelow Station
Both NASA and Bigelow stand to gain from putting an inflatable module on the ISS. Given the fact that inflatable modules could play a major role in any future NASA interplanetary spacecraft or surface base, NASA could gain valuable in-flight data from an inflatable module on ISS, as well as much-needed stowage space.

Bigelow would gain confidence in, and operational experience with, its inflatable modules in a crewed environment, confidence which would undoubtedly also be gained by any potential future customers to Bigelow. Given that the ISS is a permanently crewed operational environment, it is an ideal testbed to demonstrate these technologies

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