NEW YORK — Boeing Co. has inked a deal to use an old space shuttle hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to build and test the CST-100, a crew capsule the company is developing with NASA assistance to ferry astronauts to and from the international space station.
Boeing will also make Florida the headquarters of its space taxi venture, a move that could bring up to 550 new jobs to the area, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for commercial crew vehicles, John Mulholland, said in an Oct. 31 news briefing from Kennedy Space Center.
Boeing’s ability to deliver on its jobs promise, however, depends on whether NASA continues to fund its development of the CST (short for Crew Space Transportation)-100 one of several commercial concepts in the running to carry crew to the space station.
“It is contingent upon us continuing to receive the awards from NASA, and also adequate funding from Congress,” Mulholland said of Boeing’s plans to bring CST-100 work to Florida.
The retirement of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program in July was accompanied by devastating job losses within Florida’s Space Coast. Boeing’s new deal is seen by some as a way to revitalize the area’s strong aerospace legacy and help breathe new life into NASA’s Florida spaceport.
“It’s a great day for NASA, Kennedy Space Center, Boeing, Space Florida and the commercial space industry here on the Space Coast,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said.
Boeing ironed out the details of the 15-year deal with Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency supported by the state. The veteran aerospace company will rent one of the space shuttle processing hangars — Orbiter Processing Hangar Bay 3 — at NASA’s Florida spaceport.
“Boeing Co. has selected Florida as its commercial crew program office,” Mulholland said. “In addition, we plan to manufacture and test Boeing’s CST-100 in this facility … and launch from right here on Florida’s Space Coast.”
Boeing is expected to use the hangar to build and test its CST-100 capsule, which is being designed as a space taxi to bring astronauts to and from destinations in low Earth orbit, such as the international space station.
“Neither NASA nor the Space Coast can afford to stand still,” NASA chief Charles Bolden said in a statement. “We must be aggressive in pursuing this next generation of space exploration — and the jobs and innovation that will accompany it.”
Boeing’s proposed gumdrop-shaped capsule will carry up to seven passengers and launch on an Atlas 5 rocket built by Denver-based United Launch Alliance, company officials have said. The firm is aiming to have the capsule operational by 2015, Mulholland said.
In April, Boeing received $92 million from NASA during the second round of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. The company also received $18 million for the CST-100 during the first round of funding in February 2010.
Through CCDev, NASA is seeking to improve the capabilities of private spaceflight. Three other companies received funding from NASA as part of the second round of the CCDev program. The agency is hoping that commercial vehicles will be ready to carry astronaut passengers by the end of 2016.
Boeing also has teamed up with North Las Vegas, Nev.-based Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing a commercial space station made of inflatable habitats.
As envisioned, Boeing’s CST-100 would be used to transport commercial and government clients to Bigelow’s space station. Bigelow, however, laid off nearly half its work force in September, citing the longer-than-expected wait for new crew taxis to enter service.
NASA is counting on private companies to take over routine flights to destinations in low Earth orbit so that the agency can focus on developing its next-generation rocket and capsule for deep-space exploration.
“The next era of space exploration won’t wait, and so we can’t wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “That’s why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery.”
As part of NASA’s new direction, the Obama administration has challenged NASA to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and on to Mars by the 2030s.
“America has been the world leader in space exploration for more than 50 years, and if we stick to the ambitious plan laid out by the president and Congress, we will be the leader for the next half century,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said.
The new deal with Boeing also marks a new direction for NASA’s Florida spaceport. Following the retirement of the space shuttle program, Kennedy Space Center is being rejuvenated to support future NASA ambitions, in addition to hosting commercial and military endeavors.
“Kennedy continues working to bring new commercial space activities to the center,” Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana said in a statement. “Partnering with Space Florida to enable commercial space operations at Kennedy will help NASA maintain facilities and assets while supporting our nation’s space objectives and expanding opportunities for the U.S. economy.”