Atlas V wins again – Boeing selects launcher for their CST-100 capsule

by Chris Bergin

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V has once again found itself a new passenger, this time via the selection by Boeing to launch its CST-100 capsule as part of their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) proposal. Providing NASA downselects Boeing’s vehicle for commercial missions to the ISS, CST-100 will debut in 2015, following two test flights earlier that year.

Atlas V For The Win:

The two stage rocket is driven by the Russian-built RD AMROSS RD-180 engine – a kerosene/liquid oxygen derivative of the RD-170 engine developed for the Zenit boosters of the Energia rocket – with a Centaur Upper Stage powered by Pratt & Whitney’s RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Atlas V configurations can include Aerojet strap-on boosters.

The vehicle is fast becoming the post-Shuttle human launcher of choice, with Dream Chaser – a vehicle in the Sierra Nevada Corporation stable – along with Blue Origin and their biconic-shape capsule, already signed up for launches pending their continuation with NASA’s commercial crew program – or possibly via their own commercial ambitions.

With 26 unmanned launches under its belt since its maiden launch in 2002, the Atlas V has a 100 percent mission success rate and will continue to launch major payloads – such as Friday’s Juno mission to Jupiter on behalf of NASA.

The Atlas V selection by Boeing confirmed what was always likely, as much as the CST-100 had three other options; ULA’s Delta IV, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and ATK’s Liberty LV.

“We are pleased Boeing selected the Atlas V rocket and believe it is the right vehicle to help usher in the new commercial era in human spaceflight,” said George Sowers, ULA vice president of Business Development. “The Atlas V is a cost-effective, reliable vehicle and ULA stands ready to support Boeing’s commercial human spaceflight program.”

According to Dr Sowers, the Atlas V will fly in the 412 configuration, involving one solid strap-on booster and a dual-engine Centaur Upper Stage.

The Commercial Crew program consists of developing, manufacturing, testing and evaluating, and demonstrating the CST-100 spacecraft, launch vehicle and ground/mission operations – all part of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Transportation System – for NASA’s new Commercial Crew human spaceflight program that will provide access to the International Space Station.

The CST-100 is a reusable, capsule-shaped spacecraft that includes a crew module and a service module. It relies on proven, affordable materials and subsystem technologies that can transport up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo.

Boeing are one of four companies to win CCDev-2 awards – and received the largest sum at over $92m. Their CST-100 capsule is compatible with multiple launch vehicles, as much as Atlas V is now confirmed as the initial LV, and can be reused for up to ten missions following a nominal land landing.

Boeing plans to begin wind tunnel testing of the Atlas V and the CST-100 this year and will use the results to complete a preliminary design review of the integrated system in 2012 under the second round of its Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement with NASA.

A total of 25 milestones are listed in the Boeing released 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).

According to a new CCDev-2 presentation available on L2 – which also avoided listing all 25 milestones – development kicked off with a Delta Systems Definition Review, followed by a Phase 0 Safety review, both of which were completed in May. A Landing Air Bag drop demo was also on the manifest for August 1, to be followed by Phase 1 Wind Tunnel Tests.

October will see the Interim Design Review (IDR) take place, with a Parachute Drop Test demo on the books for next April.

The run up to the PDR will include Service Module Propellant Tank Development Tests and the Launch Vehicle Emergency Detection System (EDS)/Avionics System Integration Facility Interface Simulation testing taking place.

Notably, the EDS testing closely matches the work on the Atlas V Human Rating effort, which is being undertaken as an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA), as announced as part of Atlas V’s role with the Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Boeing claim they will be ready to provide services by 2015, a target date which is being used by most of the CCDev-2 award winners.

“This selection marks a major step forward in Boeing’s efforts to provide NASA with a proven launch capability as part of our complete commercial crew transportation service,” said John Elbon, vice president and program manager of Commercial Crew Programs and the source selection official for Boeing.

If NASA selects Boeing for a development contract with sufficient funding, ULA will provide launch services for an autonomous orbital flight, a transonic autonomous abort test launch, and a crewed launch, all in 2015.

(Images:  Boeing)  (As the shuttle fleet retire, NSF and L2 are providing full transition level coverage, available no where else on the internet, from Orion and SLS to ISS and COTS/CRS/CCDEV, to European and Russian vehicles. 

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