This past Friday, Boeing unveiled its most recent assembly plant in Florida, only the new facility won’t be building commercial jets or fighter aircraft. Instead, it will be building spaceships, yes actual spaceships.
Boeing is aiming to have its soon-to-be-flown spaceships in the air and space by 2017. Dubbed the CST-100 Starliner, the spaceships could potentially be the first commercial spacecrafts on the market, though Boeing is in a tight race with SpaceX.
NASA is forking over a huge sum of money for the partnership with Boeing, paying an estimated $4.2 billion dollars to see the development of the spacecraft through the test phase and first six flights. During these flights Boeing will be expected to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station.
Despite the tremendous price tag, Boeing has already acknowledged that its financial success will depend on contracts from customers besides NASA. Space travel could potentially revolutionize transportation, potentially allowing people to cross the world in fractions of the time of a normal airplane. So far, however, space travel has been limited almost exclusively to non-commercial exploration. Boeing hopes to change that.
Boeing isn’t the only company aiming for the stars, however. The privately SpaceX claims it will do the same thing for NASA, but will do so for only $2.6 billion dollars. Both companies are looking to build space taxis capable of delivering 7 space members to the International Space Station.
SpaceX is preparing to launch its massive Falcon heavy rocket, which is currently on schedule to launch in the spring of 2016. Initially, the rocket was slated to launch in 2013, but a series of delays have pushed the launch date back. The rocket will be capable of launching as much as 115,000 pounds into orbit around the Earth, and will be the second most powerful operational rocket in history, trailing only the Saturn V rocket, which sent man to the moon.
At the moment NASA actually lacks the ability to send people into space. After the government organization shut down its space shuttle program, astronauts around the world have been forced to rely on Russia for transportation to and from space.
The now defunct shuttle program was growing to be too expensive, and the shuttles themselves were becoming obsolete. The new industry driven programs by Boeing and SpaceX promise to deliver faster, more effective, and more efficient space shuttling services at a cheaper price.
Several other countries are still in the space race, though the United States and Russia are far ahead of the rest of the competition. Japan, the European Union, India, and China, among others, have been ramping up their space capacities.
The competition with China is especially intense for the NASA. Congress has actually banned NASA from using funds to host Chinese citizens. Further, NASA must obtain clearance from the NSA before any Chinese citizens are allowed to visit the organization’s facilities and programs.
Regardless, international cooperation remains relatively high due to the combined efforts to support the International Space Station and other projects.