Personal orbital spacecraft within reach

25 08 2010

Rendering of a Boeing CST-100 capsule mated with an Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft. (Credit: Ben McGee)

Though few may realize it now, the stage is set for the first time in human history to enable someone or a small venture (with considerable financial backing) to assemble his or her own spacecraft using private, commercially-available, “off-the-shelf” spacecraft and equipment.

And I want to fly one.

The reality is that all of the current NewSpace competitors who are each scrambling to capitalize on the few orbital dollars that are out there right now have actually created a matrix of vehicles for new architectures in space.

Take my current favorite, Boeing combined with Orbital Sciences, for example.  Currently, the two companies are (directly or indirectly) pitting their CST-100 and Cygnus spacecraft, respectively, against each other in a competition for NASA crew and cargo contracts to the International Space Station.  Little do they themselves probably realize that together, the two spacecraft come very close to assembling a truly independent orbital spacecraft (see above rendering).

The CST-100 is meant to be reusable up to 10 times, (which could probably be stretched with proper maintenance,) and the Cygnus is based on tried-and-true, pressurized, and crew-capable Italian Space Agency‘s Multi-Purpose Logistics Module technology.  The seven seats aboard the CST-100 are unnecessary except for ferrying full ISS crew compliments, so why not trade out a couple of those seats for cargo or experiment package space?

Cosmonaut Yuri P. Gidzenko aboard Cygnus-predecessor MPLM Leonardo. (Credit: NASA)

While we’re at it, why not leave half of the Cygnus interior for cargo, and slide in a couple of sleep compartments and life support systems on the other side.  Couple a female-female docking adapter to the leading Cygnus docking port, (the only novel modification,) pack a small airlock on the dorsal side and a female docking port on the ventral side, and boom – you have a orbit-faring Cygnus/CST-100 hybrid.

According to this architecture, the Cygnus would remain permanently in orbit with (perhaps somewhat enhanced) station-keeping and orbital transfer capability, while the CST-100 ferries crew and light cargo to-and-from.

Anyone for orbital salvage, rescue, satellite repair, or (relatively) cheap two-person charter to the Internal Space Station or a Bigelow Module?  Here’s your ticket.  I see a business model.

Now, if only there were venture capital.  Or a reality show.  And a name.  The ships need a name.  Is it too over-the-top for the Cygnus craft to be named Daedalus and the CST-100 Icarus?  One stays aloft and the other returns?

Like the potential combinations of the many different spacecraft coming online in the next decade, the possibilities are limitless…



5 responses

26 08 2010
Brad White

Dude, I really hope you get to fly one. I’m ready for the reality show.

26 08 2010

Brad – Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve got some ideas – we’ll see how far they get. I’ll definitely keep progress updated here. …and as it happens, I still advertise the F9 whenever I can. =) Thanks again!


17 06 2011

Dude, CST-100 uses LIDS docking system, Cygnus uses CBM docking system. The two are completely in-compatible. It would take a CBM-LIDS adapter to make them dock together. It doesn’t exist except on paper, or in the form of a PMA such as that used on ISS. It could be that you used a highly modified Cygnus PM, I’m not sure where you got your reference image from but it wasn’t from either Boeing or Orbital. I haven’t seen either space craft in Orbiter, but I would like to. If they are 3D models I’d like to get the source files in sketch-up or 3DS Max.

17 06 2011


Great observation – I intended the article as a simple illustration that various orbital spacecraft components exist, and while (being a planetary guy and not an engineer) I suspected that mating the two would require a docking adapter, I wasn’t sure until you pointed it out. =)

You’re also right – I checked Orbiter first for creating a reference image, to no avail. When I didn’t find Cygnus or CST-100 there, I created the image freehand by looking at other promotional images on Boeing and Orbital’s website. So, sorry – it isn’t actually a 3D model. Just fan art.

Thanks for reading/commenting!


14 09 2012

I would love a reality show other than Snooki or the Kardashians, I can’t stand them!!! The prolem is, it would not have enough garbage in the new show! But if I had the capabilities, I would produce it! Good luck with all your adventures!

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