U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, left, and former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, who now oversees Boeing's CST-100 commercial spacecraft program, inside a capsule mock-up. Image credit: Boeing

Jun 13, 2014 Boeing unveils two looks for its commercial space taxi

Sen—From the outside, the Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) capsules Boeing plans to use to fly NASA crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will look the same as the ships sold for commercial spaceflights, but inside is a different story.

Both concept designs begin with what Boeing calls its “Boeing Sky Interior,” a look borrowed from the company’s new 787 Dreamliner airplanes. The capsules for commercial customers, including Bigelow Aerospace, mimic the Dreamliner’s soft blue overhead lighting.

Privately owned Bigelow Aerospace is developing a series of expandable space stations that will be leased to commercial entities, research organizations, government agencies and other customers. Bigelow is partnering with Boeing—as well as Boeing’s competitor Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX—to fly clients to and from its orbital outposts.

“In the Bigelow (CST-100) concept interior, you have the future of spaceflight—Boeing blue sky lighting, ergonomic seats, stowaway bins similar to an aircraft,” said Tony Castilleja, a mechanical engineer with Boeing Space Exploration’s Business Development office.

The commercial CST-100 design, unveiled at Bigelow’s Las Vegas headquarters on April 30, features seating for up to nine passengers and an elevated seat for a pilot. A curved LED display offers passengers views of space beyond what they can see out their windows.

Illustration of the interior of Boeing

Illustration of the interior of Boeing's CST-100 for commercial customers such as Bigelow Aerospace. Image credit: Boeing 

“That interior is really looking at the way we look at commercial airplanes in terms of maximizing the space and making it a livable interior,” Castilleja told Sen.

The government CST-100 interior design, showcased this week at Boeing’s planned processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is more utilitarian.

“Here we represent the latest design for the NASA customer. It’s more robust for the ISS. We have that Boeing blue-sky lighting. We have tablet displays with Samsung,” Castilleja said.

For NASA missions, Boeing expects to configure the cabin for four- to seven people. The capsules also can be set up for cargo-only or some combination of cargo and crew.

Boeing, which is in a heated competition with SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. for a final round of NASA development funds, isn’t discussing what it will charge for CST-100 flights.

But Bigelow’s pricing is a clue. Round-trip travel on a CST-100 and a 60-day stay aboard Bigelow’s Alpha Station, which is expected to be ready to launch by the end of 2017, will run about $37 million per person. Rides on SpaceX’s Dragon capsules will cost about $10 million less.

That compares with the $52 million- to $63 million Russia charges for rides on its Soyuz spacecraft, currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying crew members to and from the space station. The lower price is what Space Adventures is currently charging to fly tourists to fly to the space station when Soyuz seats are available. NASA, which buys additional services from the Russians, pays the higher price.

NASA hopes to break Russia’s monopoly on station crew transport before the end of 2017. The agency said it expects to select one or more space taxi designs for final development and testing in late August.