Space explorers and hopeful tourists will soon be able to check out Boeing's new ride, once it completes the construction of an aircraft designed to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.
The aircraft manufacturer revealed plans for its new Crew Space Transportation (CST) 100 commercial crew flight ship Starliner, which will be built and tested at a repurposed facility dedicated to shuttle processing at the Kennedy Space Center.
The plan is to build the first structural test article, along with the former shuttle processing site, under a $4.2 billion contract with NASA. Boeing also looks forward to eventually building at least three spacecraft units that should be capable of taking off 10 times each. The agency wouldn't then have to rely solely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Starliner is engineered to take with it seven passengers at a time—or more, if cargo and crew are smaller. From the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it will take off and land with airbags and parachutes in the western United States. The sites are currently being evaluated, but it will definitely make its way back to Florida to be refurbished and again relaunched.
Included in Boeing's plan is also to integrate NASA's mission control team in managing flight operations, which can also hopefully cater to space tourists, researchers from universities or astronauts who represent other nations, according to permits of cargo requirements and available seats.
The access tower for the CST-100 Starliner, which is in the middle of construction at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, will rise up to more than 200 feet, with a metal latticework of seven levels at Space Launch Complex 41.
"This is one of the most visible things going on right now at the whole Kennedy Space Center Canaveral Air Force Station complex," said Chris Ferguson, Boeing Deputy Program Manager for Operations.
Another NASA contract is also up for bidding, with plans to build an unpiloted version of the CST-100, which will carry supplies and bring them to the station. Supply missions to the ISS for the U.S. crew are currently sent by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. Boeing is bidding for this new contract as well.