Boeing is planning to sell seats on their proposed space taxi to earth-to-orbit tourists.
The aerospace giant has announced a partnership with Space Adventures, a firm which has so far booked seven high-priced seats on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for a ride into space.
How high a price? The most recent space tourist, Guy Laiberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid $35 million dollars for an October 2009 spin into space, according to USA Today.
Boeing and Space Adventures are not speculating yet about the cost of a ticket on the trips but say they could start by 2015. Likeliest excursion would be from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the International Space Station (ISS).
Boeing and Space Adventures
With $18 million dollars from NASA, Boeing is developing the Crew Space Transportation 100 (CST-100) with Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex of Las Vegas, a reusable 7-passenger capsule. It has a superficial resemblance to the Apollo space capsule that put 12 astronauts on the Moon, but is larger. It will have a flexibility in launch vehicles that can get it into orbit, including Atlas, Delta, and Falcon. Artwork is available at this website which announced the CST-100’s unveiling at a July airshow in England.
NASA specs require a minimum of four seats for ticket-buying space station crewmembers to be transported at a time to the ISS. For the company, that leaves three open seats.
This is where Space Adventures, Ltd., of Virginia comes in. They’ll book the tourists to fill those empty seats. Chairman and co-founder Eric C. Anderson told the New York Times that they are already beginning to talk with prospective clients. It won’t exactly by the Panam space clipper of Kubrick’s 2001, but it will unquestionably further expand the opportunities for the average person to get into space.
It’s motivated by an Obama administration drive to push the growth of a commercial humans-in-space effort. The president is urging NASA to develop partnerships with private firms like Boeing to help in developing space transportation.
Partnerships have already been established with Boeing as well as other companies seeking a share of the market to help send humans and cargo into space even as the space shuttle program winds down. Current plans are to put the shuttle into mothballs next year with two or three more shuttle flights scheduled prior to that.
The shuttle program has been in operation since the early 1980’s. It was designed to bring down the cost of earth-to-orbit payload costs but turned out to be much more finicky and costly than forseen. It has nevertheless been fairly dependable and racked up some major achievements with the loss of two shuttles in tragic accidents.
Boeing was among the firms named by NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden at a recent news conference which would received $50 million in seed grants for development of a space taxi.
Boeing admits that federal development capital is critical for the plan to succeed.
Roadblocks to Space Tourism
There is a competing 3-year plan in Congress that diverges from the Obama vision, involving the construction of a rocket by NASA, such as the five-year-old Area I proposal, to carry astronauts to the space station, with larger models for planetary missions. It would only provide $150 million dollars a year to fund a privatization program.
In the private sectgor, a firm named SpaceX is also targeting the NASA contract.
The 2011 Obama budget proposal asked for an increased NASA budget of $19 billion dollars with the budget for human spaceflight virtually unchanged. A panel led by Norman R. Augustine said that without an increase, it will be necessary to largely write off humans in space.
The issue remains subject to ongoing developments, but for now, Boeing seems to have dealt itself into the private race to space.
Boeing CST-100 Spacecraft to Provide Commercial Crew Transportation Services, July 19, 2010, Boeing Mediaroom
Chang, Kenneth, September 15, 2010, Boeing Plans to Fly Toursist to Space, New York Times
Freed, Joshua, September 19, 2010, Seats on Boeing Spaceships Coul Go Up for Sale , Associated Press