* Boeing plans three test flights in 2015
* Project dependent on additional NASA funding
* Boeing among 4 firms developing space crew transport
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug 4 Boeing Co (BA.N)
announced plans to launch its seven-seat spaceship on a test
run to the International Space Station in 2015 using Atlas 5
rockets built by its United Launch Alliance venture.
The project, however, is dependent on additional government
funding, Boeing Vice President John Elbon told reporters during
a conference call,
He declined to say how much added money would be needed.
Rocket-makers Space Exploration Technologies and ATK Launch
Systems Group ATK.N also vied for the job of launching
Boeing's CST-100 capsules, popularly known as "space taxis," on
three test flights planned in 2015.
United Launch Alliance, or ULA, is a partnership with
Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N). "The process is designed to
ensure that the decision wasn't biased by the fact that Boeing
is a partial owner of ULA," he said.
The Atlas 5 rocket's pedigree gave it the edge, with 26
successful flights and no failures over five years of flying
NASA science probes, commercial satellites and military
payloads, Elbon said.
Boeing is among four firms sharing $269 million in NASA
funds to start developing alternative crew transportation to
the space station, following the retirement of the U.S. space
shuttles last month.
Until a U.S. company develops the capability to fly people
in orbit, NASA will pay Russia to ferry astronauts to the space
station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations.
Flights on Russian Soyuz spacecraft cost more than $50
million per person, including training.
"Our approach is to build a reliable spacecraft, built on
existing simple systems, then integrate that with a proven
launch vehicle all focused on putting in place a very safe
system that can be operational as soon as practical so that we
can start flying U.S. crews from U.S. launch sites in the
post-shuttle era," Elbon said.
The Obama Administration's proposed budget for NASA's
so-called commercial crew initiative is $850 million, a figure
that Elbon says is "in the ballpark," for a trio of CST-100
test flights in 2015, though delays are likely if the pool of
funds is divided among several space taxi designs like the
In addition to Boeing's capsule, NASA also is funding space
taxi projects by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX,
Sierra Nevada Corp, and Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon
founder Jeff Bezos.
SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon capsule on the company's
own Falcon 9 launchers while Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin have
outlined plans to use ULA's Atlas 5 rockets for test flights.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)