Boeing CST-100 space capsule
When private space is an established industry in the not-so-distant future, different carriers will provide distinctive customer experiences for space tourists—just as Jet Blue and Delta airlines provide different inflight amenities. At least that’s what Boeing is banking on with its recently unveiled interior designs for the CST-100 space capsule.
The CST-100 (CST stands for Crew Space Transportation) is Boeing’s gumdrop-shaped candidate for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program. The seven-seater capsule is intended to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and later, perhaps, to tourist destinations in orbit, such as theBigelow inflatable space hotel. The upstartsSpaceX and Sierra Nevada, the other two companies currently vying to ferry NASA astronauts, have garnered more headlines with their new spacecraft. But don’t sleep on the behemoth Boeing. The company has focused on creating a spacecraft that people want to travel in, says former astronaut Chris Ferguson, now Boeing’s commercial crew director.
“If you’re gonna go there, you might as well go in the way you want to go, and really getting there is half the fun,” Ferguson says.
Boeing says it leaned on its expertise in commercial aircraft for the new design. But cost and weight restrictions may put limitations on the customer experience when it comes to commercial space travel.
Take the windows. Rachelle Ornan, who worked on the CST’s payload concepts, acknowledged that while airplane windows are important for showing passengers “the magic of flight,” the company is debating whether to include them in the CST. “In general we believe it is feasible, but windows add weight, and they add cost and a lot of complexity.” The centerpiece of the CST’s new design is an OLED screen that would display images of Earth and space in place of a real window.
Or bathrooms. Like a Russian Soyuz capsule, the only spacecraft currently carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, the 15-foot-diameter CST doesn’t have enough space onboard for a bathroom. And a trip to the ISS can take anywhere from 6 and 30 hours, which means spacefarers would have to do their business in a superabsorbent diaper. Astronauts accept that as part of their job; it might be a harder sell for tourists.
The mockup of the Boeing CST-100’s interior.
But what’s most interesting about Boeing’s new interior is that the designers had to reformulate their assumptions about how passengers will use three-dimensional space when they’re in microgravity. “On an airplane you’re encouraged to always be in your seat,” says Rick Fraker, an industrial designer with Boeing. “And here the encouragement is to get out of your seat and experience that part of the journey. When we evaluate space on an airplane, we typically know we’re standing on a floor. Or we’re seated on a seat that’s mounted to the floor, so our orientation is very up-and-down, left and right. On orbit we have to come up with another way of evaluating space.”
The new Boeing concept uses directional lighting to provide those sorts of orientation cues, and to give passengers the sense of moving toward a destination. A window, if it ends up being included, would also help passengers orient themselves.
In one exercise, members of the design team sat inside a foam-core mockup of the CST and tried to imagine what it would be like to sit inside a small spacecraft, far from terra firma. The problem, Orman says, is that “we can’t actually understand the size of the CST-100, really, until every single one of us has experienced weightlessness.”
“It seems like we’re kind of at the beginning of what a spacecraft needs in the sense of orientation,” Fraker says. “Should it pay homage to commercial aircraft, or should it venture into something else? I’d kind of like to see it venture into something else.”