August 8, 2011

Almost exactly a year ago, Boeing gave the world a glimpse of its Crew Space Transportation vehicle, the CST-100. It was unclear whether or not the company was looking to augment NASA’s efforts with a new craft, or pursue designs of its own. Now we know: Boeing is kick-starting its own commercial spaceflight program.

The ultimate goal here — one that is supported by NASA and, as such, the U.S. government — is to make getting to and from orbit far cheaper than the Space Shuttle allowed, and accelerate overall the rate at which we (meaning not just the U.S., but the rest of the world, too) perform manned space missions.

To that end, Boeing is aiming at docking its CST-100 with the International Space Station with two of its own employees on board. The company plans to test its craft twice in 2015 before the manned mission attempt: the first time to see how it goes, followed by a second launch to test out the capsule’s abort system.

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Boeing isn’t the only name in the game, either. Lockheed Martin also has a space capsule in the works. (In fact, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are partners in the United Space Alliance, a jointly-run contract that handles NASA’s launches.) It’s all part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, which the agency hopes will help spur private industry to fill in the gap left by the retired Shuttle fleet, all while making the program leaner and meaner.

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