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Boeing to establish center in Florida for new spaceship program

November 01, 2011|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Aerospace giant Boeing Co. announced plans to establish a headquarters for its new spaceship program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Chicago company is in the process of developing a seven-person spaceship, dubbed the Crew Space Transportation-100, for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station now that NASA's space shuttle program has ended.

Boeing will consolidate the program's engineering and manufacturing operations, which are spread across the country in cities including Huntington Beach, Houston and Huntsville, Ala. Boeing's decision is expected to bring back high-paying aerospace jobs to the nation's "space coast," near Cape Canaveral, which lost thousands of jobs when the NASA shuttle program was retired this year.

"We selected Florida due to the cost benefits achieved with a consolidated operation, the skilled local workforce and proximity to our NASA customer," John Mulholland, Boeing's program manager of commercial programs, said in a statement.

Boeing estimated that the workforce at Kennedy Space Center will ramp up to 550 jobs by December 2015. Although that's a relatively small number compared with the tens of thousands employed during the shuttle program, the announcement was heralded by state officials.

"We are extremely pleased that Boeing will locate its commercial crew headquarters here in Florida," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the state's aerospace economic development agency. "This positions our state well for future growth and a leadership role in NASA's next-generation human space exploration initiatives. It is also a key factor in ensuring Florida's space-related economy continues to thrive after shuttle retirement."

In coming years, NASA plans to rely on private businesses for low-orbit space missions such as carrying cargo to the space station. The space agency hopes that one day the companies will be able to take astronauts into space as well.

Modern-day industrialists have pounced on this opportunity, developing rockets and spaceships to assume the responsibilities.

Boeing's contender to fill the role is an Apollo-like space capsule. Engineers in Huntington Beach work on a wide array of space and military programs — one of which is developing the capsule's pressure vessel, base heat shield and autonomous docking systems. There was no estimate of how many of these workers would be affected by the move — or when.

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