With the last Space Shuttle flight in the history books, Boeing is stepping up plans to provide a manned space mission alternative with a modern take on the space capsule. The company has selected to use Atlas 5 rockets to test its CST-100 seven-place "space taxi" on three flights in 2015. Only the third will carry people. Boeing's first test will attempt to deliver the CST-100 to orbit. The next will be intentionally aborted after launch and before the vehicle has reached space. The third plans to deliver Boeing test pilots to the International Space Station, setting the stage for more regular service in 2016.
The Atlas 5 has recorded 26 successful flights without one failure over five years. Meanwhile, multiple companies have been working for years on products and propulsion systems that would deliver cargo or passengers into space. Boeing may have at least one advantage. Boeing's effort is partly funded by NASA. Its tests will set the CST-100 and its propulsion system for competition against products from SpaceX, which has already completed a series of test launches. XCOR, Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, and Orbital Sciences Corp are also all pursuing space vehicle programs. The last company plans to launch a resupply vessel into space early in 2012.