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Boeing teams up with space tour firm

Space Adventures, the Virginia-based company that has worked with the Russians to send seven millionaires to the International Space Station, says it has reached "a unique agreement" with the Boeing Co. on space transportation services — and executives from both companies will be talking about the deal next week.

Today's announcement, sent to me via e-mail, merely notes that a noontime news briefing will be conducted next Wednesday at Boeing's offices in Arlington, Va. Speakers will include Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing's space exploration division (and a former astronaut); as well as Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures.

Space Adventures isn't saying anything further about the substance of the deal — but you could easily make the case that each company has something the other one wants:

• Under the terms of an $18 million agreement with NASA, Boeing is designing a spaceship known as the CST-100 that can carry up to seven people to the space station and other destinations in low Earth orbit. But the aerospace giant has said that ferrying astronauts for NASA isn't a lucrative enough business by itself. It also needs commitments for private-sector clients. That's one reason why Boeing already has partnered with Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, which is planning to put a commercial space station into orbit as early as 2014 or 2015. I'm guessing that Boeing would love to have an even bigger market for its commercial space transport services.

• For years, Space Adventures has been building up a list of clients willing to take multimillion-dollar trips into orbit — including, for example, Sergey Brin, one of Google's billionaire co-founders. In the past, the company has purchased open seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that have brought astronauts to the space station and back. However, now that the station's long-duration capacity has been expanded from three to six, those open seats have dried up. Particularly with the imminent retirement of NASA's shuttle fleet, Soyuz seats are needed to ferry the professional astronauts back and forth. The outlook for tourist seats could improve a couple of years from now, but I'm guessing that Space Adventures would love to have a deal with Boeing like the one they've had with the Russians.

But these are just my guesses. Feel free to speculate about what all this could mean for the two companies, and for space commercialization in general, by leaving your comments below. And tune in on Wednesday to get the full story.

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