NASA oversight of CCDev-2 Partners reveals progress milestones

by Chris Bergin

NASA’s key Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) drive appears to be progressing to plan, as four companies press on with the development of their manned vehicles, with an aim to transport crews to the International Space Station (ISS) by the middle of this decade – aided by Agency money, whilst allowing for the key oversight from NASA.


With the US now paying for seats on the Russian Soyuz following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the goal of CCDev-2 is to accelerate the availability of US crew transportation capabilities – both commercial and government – to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) destinations, such as the ISS.

NASA’s CCDev initiatives – which began back in 2009 to stimulate efforts within US industry to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities – are now in a key phase, although further rounds will be forthcoming, ahead of final selections and full contract awards.

Right now, NASA are providing funds via awards, ranging from $22m to $93m, to the four successful CCDEV-2 companies, as outlined at the start of an expansive and unreleased NASA CCDev-2 presentation, acquired by L2.

“CCDev 2 Announcement (AFP) was released to industry in October: The goals of CCDev 2 investments: Advance orbital commercial CTS concepts. Enable significant progress on maturing the design and development of elements of the system, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft. Accelerate the availability of U.S. CTS capabilities.

“New competition open to all U.S. commercial providers for NASA Space Act Agreements (SAAs). Pay-for-Performance milestones, 14 months performance. Proposals received on Dec 13th. Awards announced April 18th. Approx $269M to four industry partners.”

With the highly important goal of establishing commercial crew vehicles as the primary means for ISS crew transportation, the Agency was authorized funding levels for FY11 – FY13 which were lower than President’s request.

However, though Space Act Agreements (SAA), the amounts of allocated funding to the four winners raised no objections, with Blue Origin receiving $22 million, Sierra Nevada Corporation – $80 million, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) – $75 million, and The Boeing Company $92.3 million.

SNC with Dream Chaser:

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).

SNC are receiving unpublished amounts of money from their $80m award pot, following each successful completion of their 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.

Dream Chaser is a Reusable, Piloted Lifting Body, Derived from NASA HL­‐20 launching on an Atlas V. A recent unfunded SAA with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) encouraged the continuing efforts to Human Rate the Atlas V launch vehicle,

“During CCDev-2, SNC plans to mature the Dream Chaser crew transportation system design through a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) with subsystems to the Critical Design Review (CDR),” noted the CCDev-2 presentation (L2). “SNC will also fabricate an atmospheric flight test vehicle, conduct analysis and risk mitigation, and conduct significant hardware testing.”

Milestones, which are listed alongside a schedule document – include a Systems Requirements Review (SRR), Canted Airfoil Fin Selection, and work on their Cockpit Based Flight Simulator – all completed in June and July.

Other listed notables include the delivery of the Engineering Test Article (ETA) in December, prior to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) – scheduled for the end of May, 2012.

While Dream Chaser may not be the first vehicle to commercially transport astronauts to the ISS, their “baby shuttle orbiter” design has won large amounts of admiration from within the space flight community.

Boeing with CST-100:

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-330 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. The capsule is currently favored to ride atop of the Atlas V launch vehicle.

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 the new CCDev-2 presentation – 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 appears to closely match the work on the Atlas V Human Rating effort, a potential clue as to how closely these two vehicles are associating themselves.

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.

Blue Origin:

Blue Origin’s $22m award was for their their biconic-shape capsule, which will initially launch with the Atlas V launch vehicle, prior to hitching a lift uphill via its own Reusable Booster System (RBS).

The vehicle is capable of carrying seven passengers – with an ability for cargo runs – to the ISS, and will be available for independent commercial flights for science, adventure and trips to other orbital destinations.

It is also capable of a 210 day ISS lifeboat role, something Orion (MPCV) was going to be tasked with during its dark days surrounding the cancellation of the Constellation Project (CxP), prior to being re-promoted as a Beyond Earth Object (BEO) vehicle by NASA.

The Blue Origin vehicle has mostly shunned the public limelight, although the new CCDev-2 presentation provides some details on the key development milestones.

“During CCDev-2, Blue Origin with mature their Space Vehicle design through System Requirements Review (SRR), mature the Pusher Escape System, and accelerate engine development for the Reusable Booster System (RBS),” noted the presentation.

While all of the aforementioned events have received their “kick off” meetings, the listed milestones include the Space Vehicle Mission Concept Review, which will take place in September, ahead of key Pusher Escape Test Vehicle shipment and ground firing either side of the new year.

A Pusher Escape Pad Escape Test is scheduled for April, 2012, followed by the SRR in May – the month which will result in the opening RBS Engine Thrust Chamber Assembly (TCA) test.

SpaceX with Falcon 9/Dragon:

By far the most famous of the four CCDev-2 award winners – and likely to be a no-brainer for advancing further – SpaceX won’t be surprising anyone by showing they are making good progress with their Dragon vehicle, which will – of course – launch via their own Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

With one test flight already under their belts, most of the focus is on the Launch Abort System (LAS), which will be required prior to allowing human passengers on board for riding uphill with the California-based company.

“SpaceX will mature the flight-proven Falcon 9/Dragon transportation system, focusing on developing an integrated side-mounted Launch Abort System,” noted the NASA oversight presentation.

The listed milestones mainly focus on this LAS effort, with the Propulsion Conceptual Design Review already in the bag, as will the Design Status Review (DSR-1), which was manifested as August 1 on the schedule.

Upcoming over the next few months will be the LAS Propulsion Components PDR in September, followed by the Crew Accommodation Concept Prototype and In-Situ Trial 1 and 2, listed as October of this year and January of 2012 respectively.

The DSR-2 should be completed before the year is out, prior to two key LAS milestones in April and May of 2012, namely the LAS Propulsion Components Test Articles Complete element, and the Initial Test Cycle. The Concept Baseline Review will round off a busy May.

Dragon’s integrated LAS is far more than just a means of aborting a launch in the event of a serious issue. Unlike the traditional tractor system – which is jettisoned shortly after the key events of ascent – SpaceX’s LAS remains integrated into the spacecraft, allowing for the potential of a rocket-assisted touchdown on land.

Such a rocket-assisted landing also allows for the potential for landings on the moon and Mars, without the need for additional hardware, or additional vehicles, such as landers.

Mars was one of the key subjects presented by SpaceX founder Elon Musk during Monday’s AIAA speech, claiming it is the sole aim of SpaceX to establish transport links with the Red Planet.

Partner Integration:

One of the most impressive elements of the CCDev drive is the funding and encouragement provided to these commercial companies to mature their systems, via the oversight role of NASA’s vast experience and safety requirements.

A large section of the presentation overviews the requirements and roles of the partner integration approach, which literally embeds NASA into the commercial companies, allowing for the oversight role and ensuring NASA standards of safety are being reached, ahead of any crews flying in one of the vehicles.

“Partner Integration Team members are predominantly based at NASA Centers; however, when negotiated and agreed to by the Commercial Partner, a small number of CCP NASA personnel will be embedded at or near the partner’s facility,” lists one of the pages on the approach,” noted the presentation.

“Embedded personnel can consist of either Core Team and/or Support Team member. It is expected that the members of the Core team will be at the Partner facility most of the time. Partner Integration Team support will be tailored in accordance with the SAA and will accommodate CCP and Commercial Partner needs. Invitations of NASA personnel for CP activities are managed only by the Partner Manager.”

The required role also notes that NASA will provide technical expertise to the Commercial Partner through feedback which utilizes two approaches during the evaluation of CCDev milestones.

“Formal – Official milestone review and approval at successful milestone completion. Informal – Technical comments provided to assist the partner without issuing direction or requiring disposition,” the presentation adds. “The Partner Integration Team is not authorized to issue direction to the Commercial Partner.”

Despite NASA bringing money to the table, and their obvious expertise in launching humans into space, the NASA personnel tasked with involvement within the commercial companies will not be allowed to overstep their mark and boss the commercial companies around.

“NASA personnel participate with CCDev partners in their system development as defined by the SAA. CCDev partners have final authority and responsibility for all decisions related to their system development and operations,” the presentation continued.

“NASA personnel will not dictate nor propose specific design or operational solutions to CCDev partners. NASA personnel will ensure fairness and consistency when responding to the commercial company requests. A commercial partner’s design solution or technical approach will not be shared with other commercial companies.”

The companies were also reassured that none of their “secrets” will find their way into the hands of the public – or other “rival” companies – with the NASA representatives treated on a “need to know” basis. As such, it is likely that progress reports on milestones will continue to be noted, while technical details and drawings related to the hardware will remain restricted.

(Images: L2 Content, NASA CCDev, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing)

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