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Boeing to build commercial spacecraft at Kennedy, create 550 jobs

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(Nov. 1, 2011) — The Boeing Co. will set up Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to manufacture and assemble its CST-100 spacecraft for launches to the International Space Station under a newly signed agreement with NASA and Space Florida. And that deal could provide a glimpse of how Kennedy's unique facilities will be used in the future.

"It's a clear sign that NASA will continue to be an engine for growth," said Lori Garver, the agency's deputy administrator, in announcing the deal during a ceremony Oct. 31 at OPF-3. "Together we're going to win the future right here."

This deal, expected to produce 550 jobs by 2015, may be the first of several affecting other Kennedy facilities as the center sorts through what it needs for the future and what can be turned over to others. The retirement of the space shuttle fleet earlier this year made a number of facilities available for future use.

"Kennedy is moving forward," said Bob Cabana, the center's director. "Partnerships are going to be key."

The White House also praised the agreement in a statement released Oct. 31, 2011. "My administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make surer America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery," President Barack Obama wrote.

The agreement was held up as an example of public and private enterprise cooperation. Under the deal, NASA 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."

Officials indicated there will be such agreements coming up.

"This is just the first of much to come," said Sen. 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."

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 square feet, is large enough to accommodate several CST-100 capsules at once as they go through the assembly.

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 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 runs 15 years and there is an option for another five.

The company also announced it is basing its commercial crew program office at Kennedy, which is the home of NASA's program.

"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 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."

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