Bubble-baron Bigelow bags Boeing boosters
'Bob, bless him, is the nearest thing to commercial space'
Farnborough Colourful inflatable space-bubble kingpin Robert Bigelow has allied with US aerospace globocorp Boeing for the purpose of "making space travel commercial the way air travel became commercial a century ago".
Overheard at the briefing: 'There will definitely be less Krazy Glue involved in the real one'
Bigelow and execs from Boeing's Space Exploration division briefed reporters yesterday at the Farnborough Airshow on plans for Boeing to build a new, low-cost manned launch vehicle called Crew Space Transportation (CST) 100.
CST-100 could carry up to seven passengers or cargo to manned space stations in orbit. It would be aimed at NASA's new Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative, intended to contract the business of moving US astronauts to and from low orbit out of NASA and into the private sector. Commercial crew launchers are intended to replace the space shuttle fleet for carrying crew to an from the International Space Station (ISS), while NASA moves forward with "deep space" manned missions beyond the Moon.
According to Boeing, however, NASA CCDev ISS work on its own wouldn't merit the company developing a new people-carrying launcher.
"There needs to be more than one place to go," says Boeing's Roger Krone. "This is not viable if the only place is ISS."
According to Bigelow and Boeing, if they are offered adequate amounts of CCDev cash, CST-100 could be making test flights in 2014 and carrying paying customers to Bigelow stations in 2015. At the moment, however, Boeing has only a small $18m contract with NASA under which it is carrying forward design work with Bigelow Aerospace as a subcontractor.
There is scepticism both within NASA and among politicians in Washington as to whether private-sector craft are ready to carry astronauts safely. However Boeing argues that this viewpoint is engendered more by upstart newcomers such as Elon Musk's SpaceX firm with its brand-new rocket and capsule designs.
'Bob, bless him'
Might even ride on a Falcon 9. Over Elon Musk's dead body, presumably
Boeing, by contrast, has built many of NASA's in-house launchers. So the only real difference with CST-100 would be that the firm would be providing the whole service, rather than simply supplying hardware for NASA to use. And, Boeing hopes, others such as Bigelow would be buying CST-100 lift as well.
"Our vision is to be the Boeing Commercial Aircraft of space flight," said Boeing Space honcho Brewster Shaw. "Space commerce will be real ... Bob [Bigelow], bless him, is the nearest thing to space commerce there is at the moment - for humans that is."
"[Bigelow Aerospace] is a great place to start," added Krone.
Bigelow himself displayed his customary confidence, telling the assembled reporters that even now his firm is putting up a new plant in Nevada which has no other purpose than "mass production" of inflatable habitat modules. He added that no less than 75 per cent of all the money he expects to take from customers leasing space stations and buying seats on rockets will be passed on to launch providers like Boeing.
"We expect a significant Christmas card" from them, he said.
The CST-100, if successful in winning further CCDev cash from NASA, would be similar to an Apollo capsule in design but somewhat larger. The idea would be to design it with a "push" rather than a "pull" type launch-abort rocket escape system for use in the event of a rocket mishap, and make it able to take off aboard a standard Delta IV or Atlas V lift stack - or even a Falcon 9 from SpaceX, though SpaceX will also be pushing its rival "Dragon" capsule for CCDev funding and it was confirmed that no approach had been made to SpaceX.
It's possible that both CST-100 and Dragon would go forward under CCDev, and/or offerings from other providers - or that no serious cash at all will be forthcoming for commercially-run manned flight.
In Krone's opinion, it should be possible to get a CST-100 launch stack approved for manned flight without an elaborate "man-rated" redesign of the Delta or Atlas machinery, as the abort system will ensure astronauts' survival in the event of any problem. The push design of the abort system would allow its fuel to be used for manoeuvres in orbit, unlike puller designs which are jettisoned after launch.
The specs would allow a CST-100 capsule to remain docked at a Bigelow station or the ISS for up to seven months (providing "lifeboat" capability for the crew as it did) before returning to touchdown on land using parachutes and airbags. A capsule would be re-used for up to ten launches. ®