NASA has awarded four Space Act Agreements in the second round of the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2), a commercial effort aimed to foster domestic crew transportation by the middle of the decade. The winners – ranging from lifting body to capsule spacecrafts – were Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Boeing.
Each of the companies will receive between $22 million and $92.3 million to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft. The funds will be paid on a pre-arranged milestone basis, covering a timeline which reaches out to May, 2012.
While the US will have to pay for seats on the Russian Soyuz after the Shuttle retires this summer – an undesirable scenario which will likely continue until at least the middle of the decade – the goal of CCDev2 is to accelerate the availability of US crew transportation capabilities – both commercial and government – to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) destinations, such as the International Space Station (ISS).
“The next American-flagged vehicle to carry our astronauts into space is going to be a U.S. commercial provider,” said Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “The partnerships NASA is forming with industry will support the development of multiple American systems capable of providing future access to low-Earth orbit.”
These awards are a continuation of NASA’s CCDev initiatives, which began in 2009 to stimulate efforts within US industry to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities. More rounds will follow, with one managerial memo speaking of the build-up towards CCDEV-3.
“Team is working the acquisition strategy for CCDev-3,” noted the JSC Senior Staff Meeting Notes for mid April (L2). “Acquisition Strategy Meeting (ASM) in early May.”
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is comprised of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members. An unmanned Dragon was successfully tested during the second launch of their Falcon 9 launch vehicle via the COTS demo mission.
The Dragon capsule is made up of three main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Pressurized Section, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo; and the Service Section, which contains avionics, the RCS (Reaction Control System) thrusters, parachutes, and other support infrastructure.
In addition, an unpressurized trunk is included, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators. This vehicle is by far the best known of the four winning proposals.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) class themselves as the complete system provider and claim to have demonstrated significant progress maturing design and development of the Dream Chaser (DC) Space System (DCSS).
With an appearance of a baby shuttle orbiter, the Dream Chaser would launch atop of an Atlas V – building on studies which range back several years – as first revealed via NASASpaceflight.com’s article on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in 2007.
As was the main focus for the Atlas V element of the duo, human rating is also cited heavily in SNC’s overview of the work to be conducted on the Dream Chaser – which is a reusable lifting body vehicle based on the form of NASA Langley’s HL-20 spaceplane concept from the 1980s, which can land on a conventional runway.
“Since the ultimate goal is to provide the complete system to safely transport crew and pressurized cargo to and from LEO and the ISS, our human rating plan and ISS interface requirements development remain integral parts of CCDev2,” SNC noted.
“During CCDev we initiated the human rating plan and completed the ISS interface requirements flow down to the design. During CCDev2 we will mature the human rating plan through integrated system safety and hazard reviews, integrating human rating certification requirements in all aspects of the DCSS.”
SNC will receive unpublished amounts of money from their $80m award pot, following the successful completion of 19 milestones, the latter of which is listed as the Free Flight Test, which will be a piloted Flight test from carrier aircraft to characterize handling qualities and approach and landing.
Boeing’s award – the largest at over $92m – is centered around their CST-100 capsule, which is configurable to carry up to seven crew/passengers or an equivalent combination of passengers and pressurized cargo to LEO destinations, including ISS and the BA Sundancer space complex.
The capsule is compatible with multiple launch vehicles, and – following nominal land landings – the vehicle can be reused for up to ten missions.
25 milestones are listed in the Boeing presentation for CCDEV-2, although it is heavily censored, listing only 11 of the milestones, the latter of which will be the Preliminary Design Review (PDR).
By the conclusion of the CCDEV-2 funding period, Boeing also claim they will be 80 percent complete on their Critical Design Review (CDR).
However, Boeing claim they will be ready to provide services by 2015, a target date which is being used by most of the winners of Monday’s awards.
“The Boeing CCTS is a “full-service” system offering NASA and commercial customers safe, reliable, and affordable crew transportation to low earth orbit (LEO) destinations. Our proposed plan accelerates availability of a U.S. capability, achieving a first crewed flight in 2015, and it stimulates growth of space commerce in LEO.”
Blue Origin’s $22m award is for their their biconic-shape capsule, of which very little is currently in the public domain.
However, some details were revealed in their associated award presentation, listing the vehicle is capable of carrying seven passengers – with an ability for cargo – to the ISS, and will be available for independent commercial flights for science, adventure and trips to other orbital destinations.
Interestingly, the vehicle is also capable of a 210 day ISS lifeboat role, something Orion was demoted to by the US government, until the decision was reversed.
Like the Dream Chaser, ULA’s Atlas V is cited as the initial launch vehicle to loft Blue Origin into space, although it is noted the vehicle is designed to be compatible with numerous rockets.
The commercial effort continues the change of direction for Orion’s primary role, which is as a Beyond Earth Object (BEO) vehicle. However, Orion – which NASA continues to rename as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) on memos – is also being targeted for a “back up” vehicle role, riding on the Space Launch System (SLS), which is set to debut in 2016.
“Agency is working on an integrated plan for the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) (formerly Orion), Space Launch Services (SLS) (heavy lift), and 21st century complex,” noted the Staff Senior Notes (L2).
“JSC is coordinating with other Centers on proposals for collaboration. (This is) to accelerate NASA ability to develop critical capabilities required for human exploration beyond LEO, through innovative focused activities (based around system-level integration, testing and demos). Intent: Infuse new technologies into exploration missions.”
However, numerous uncertainties remain, not least with the SLS – which is still undergoing its configuration evaluations at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). A final SLS report is due in the summer, although NASA Administrator Charles Bolden continues to be more focused on the commercial companies and their role to take over from the contract with the Russians for domestic crew transport to the ISS.
“We’re committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments,” noted General Bolden. “These agreements are significant milestones in NASA’s plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration.”
(Further articles will follow. All images via the relevant CCDEV companies, NASA.gov).