Boeing to build spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

1 Nov 2011

Boeing is working to develop a commercial space transportation system to take crew to the International Space Station. Artist concept of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

NASA is to lease out one of its unused hangars to Boeing, which will establish an Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to manufacture and assemble its CST-100 spacecraft, with the possibility of eventually flying people commercially to the International Space Station by 2015.

Boeing has signed an agreement with NASA and Space Florida, in a move that could be a sign of future partnerships between industry and NASA. The link-up could also create 550 jobs by 2015.

“It’s a clear sign that NASA will continue to be an engine for growth,” said Lori Garver, the agency’s deputy administrator, when the deal was announced yesterday at OPF-3. “Together, we’re going to win the future right here.”

This deal, which NASA and Boeing anticipate could spawn 550 jobs by 2015, may be the first of several affecting other Kennedy facilities as the centre sorts through what it needs for the future and what can be turned over to others, said NASA yesterday.

Because of the retirement of the space shuttle fleet earlier this year, this has made some facilities available for other uses.

More partnerships with industry on the NASA horizon

“Kennedy is moving forward,” said Bob Cabana, the centre’s director. “Partnerships are going to be key.”

The White House also praised the agreement in a statement released yesterday. “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,” said US President Barack Obama.

Under the deal, NASA has turned over the facility, which had been used to process space shuttles for launch, to Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency of the state. Space Florida, in turn, agreed to let Boeing use it.

It was a deal that took about a year to complete, according to Florida Lt Gov Jennifer Carroll, who also is the chairwoman of Space Florida.

“I think we have it just right, that this is a true partnership,” Carroll said, “that all have an equal part in this and an equal opportunity in this and we can move forward with other companies that want to come in and have a public, private partnership with us.”

According to NASA, officials indicated there will be such agreements coming up.

US Senator Bill Nelson

US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida talks about the future
of American human space flight during the ceremony
on 31 October when a shuttle hangar was turned over
to Boeing for its CST-100 spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA TV

“This is just the first of much to come,” said Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. “You just wait until you see what’s coming here to the Kennedy Space Center in the future in the way of public/private partnerships.”

NASA said that In OPF-3, the immediate future involves removing the infrastructure of work platforms and ground systems that were used to service space shuttles that returned for orbit and were being prepped for another flight. That should take about a year, said Boeing’s John Mulholland.

After that, fixtures tailored to the CST-100 will be moved onto the floor, which, at some 29,000 sq feet, can host several CST-100 capsules at once as they go through the assembly.

Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation

The CST-100, which stands for Crew Space Transportation, is a reusable, capsule-shaped spacecraft built to ferry seven people into Earth orbit.

Working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing said it envisions the first missions carrying astronauts to the space station, possibly as soon as 2015. The company also may take people to a space station designed by Bigelow Aerospace, with those launches also potentially taking place at Kennedy.

Boeing expects to hire 550 people by 2015, when the floor of the OPF is expected to be in full operation, with several capsules in different stages of completion. The deal will run for 15 years and there is an option for another five, according to both entities.

Boeing also announced it is basing its commercial crew program office at Kennedy.

“We selected Florida for the commercial crew headquarters because of its close proximity to not only our NASA customer at Kennedy Space Center, but also because of outstanding facilities and an experienced space workforce,” said John Elbon, vice-president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration.

Nelson, who flew as a payload specialist on Columbia’s STS-61C mission in January 1986, said NASA is turning over flights to the space station so it can put its efforts into deep space travel using the new Orion spacecraft and launching on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

“NASA’s got to get out and explore the heavens” – Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

“NASA can’t stay stuck in low-Earth orbit,” Nelson said. “NASA’s got to get out and explore the heavens. We’re just getting cranked up.”

In other news, Boeing executive vice-president, corporate president and chief financial officer James Bell has today announced plans to retire from the company, effective from 1 April 2012. Greg Smith, corporate controller and finance vice-president, has been elected by Boeing’s board of directors to succeed Bell as executive vice-president and chief financial officer, effective from 1 February 2012.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic