Boeing, partner plan space taxi for tourists by 2016

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

If you have the millions to spare and the derring-do, your chances of being strapped in and launched to the international space station improved markedly Wednesday when two major companies agreed to join forces to make space travel significantly more available.

The Boeing aerospace company announced an agreement with Space Adventures Ltd. of Vienna, Va., to establish a space taxi system that will launch its passengers into low Earth orbit.

Boeing has been developing a capsule and has years of experience building rockets, while Space Adventures has organized seven trips to the space station aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz. The obstacles remain high, but the two companies say they think they can begin their service by the end of 2015.

The agreement "creates another opportunity to jump-start the human migration to space," said Brewster Shaw, Boeing's vice president and general manager of space exploration. The goal of his division, he said, is to create a "Boeing commercial aircraft of human space commerce."

It's all part of the still-fragile blossoming of a commercial rocket and spacecraft industry that could transform the way people think about and use the space beyond Earth.

Boeing is also in the running to provide low-cost commercial transport to the space station for NASA astronauts - an initiative pushed by President Obama but facing opposition in Congress, especially in the House.

The Boeing-Space Adventures announcement was made as Senate and House staffers are working - with what participants say is limited success - to craft a bill that would provide funds to encourage private space companies to expand their efforts. The commercial space initiative has become embroiled in resistance to Obama's desire to kill the Ares I rocket program, the Bush administration's behind-schedule and overbudget effort to provide transport to the space station.

Space Adventures has sent seven private space travelers to the space station on Soyuz capsules, most recently at a cost of about $40 million for one seat.

Company Chairman Eric Anderson said the linkup with Boeing will not make future space travel cheap but could make it much cheaper.

"With our customer experience and Boeing's heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space," he said. It's "also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth."

The joint project envisions launches from the Kennedy Space Center and landings at the White Sands base in New Mexico.

Boeing is one of seven companies selected by NASA in February to research and potentially develop rocket service to the space station for NASA crews. The company won an $18 million federal Space Act agreement to begin the work, which Boeing officials said is now two-thirds complete.

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