Turns out NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida won't be gathering dust following the end of the Space Shuttle Program earlier this year. Providing a glimpse of how the NASA facilities will be used in the future, Boeing has signed an agreement with NASA and Space Florida that will see it using the Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) to manufacture, assemble and test its CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation-100) spacecraft.

The CST-100, which was awarded funding through NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative, is a reusable, capsule-shaped spacecraft designed to ferry seven people into Earth orbit. The spacecraft is designed to be compatible with a variety of expendable rockets and Boeing has selected the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V launch vehicle for initial CST-100 test flights scheduled for 2015.

The CST-100 will be used to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and it may also be used to take people to the Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station currently under development by Bigelow Aerospace. Those launches may also take place at Kennedy.

Before those goals can be realized, the OPF-3 will first have to have the infrastructure of work platforms and ground systems that were used to service space shuttles removed. This is expected to take about a year, after which fixtures tailored to the CST-100 will be moved onto the floor, which, at some 29,000 square feet (2,694 square meters), is large enough to accommodate several CST-100 capsules at once as they go through the assembly.

The newly signed agreement, which took about a year to complete, is expected to produce about 550 jobs by 2015 and could be the first of several deals regarding future use of Kennedy facilities. Under the deal, NASA turned over the facility to Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency of the state, which, in turn, agreed to let Boeing use it. The deal runs for 15 years, with an option for another five.

"I think we have it just right, that this is a true partnership," said Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who also is the chairwoman of Space Florida, "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."

"This is just the first of much to come," added Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew as a payload specialist on Columbia's STS-61C mission in January 1986. "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."

Vice president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration, John Elbon, also announced the company will be basing its commercial crew program office at Kennedy 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."

Nelson says NASA is turning over flights to the ISS so it can concentrate on 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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