CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA Friday announced new agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years. Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements through the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.
The CCiCap partners selected by NASA are:
— Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $212.5 million
— Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $440 million
— The Boeing Company, Houston, $460 million
“Today, we are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country.”
CCiCap is an initiative of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and an administration priority. The objective of the CCP is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit. After the capability is matured and expected to be available to the government and other customers, NASA could contract to purchase commercial services to meet its station crew transportation needs.
“NASA’s award means tangible resources and true opportunities,” said Lynda Weatherman, president & CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “The most immediate source of space industry job creation is in commercial space and we will do everything we can to ensure these companies pursue the full range of capabilities in Brevard County, including launch, manufacturing, and R&D.”
The new CCiCAP agreements follow two previous initiatives by NASA to spur the development of transportation subsystems, and represent the next phase of U.S. commercial human space transportation, in which industry partners develop crew transportation capabilities as fully integrated systems. Between now and May 31, 2014, NASA’s partners will perform tests and mature integrated designs. This would then set the stage for a future activity that will launch crewed orbital demonstration missions to low Earth orbit by the middle of the decade.
“For 50 years American industry has helped NASA push boundaries, enabling us to live, work and learn in the unique environment of microgravity and low Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The benefits to humanity from these endeavors are incalculable. We’re counting on the creativity of industry to provide the next generation of transportation to low Earth orbit and expand human presence, making space accessible and open for business.”
While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop commercial spaceflight capabilities to low Earth orbit, the agency also is developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion MPCV will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.
“This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown.”
SpaceX expects to undertake its first manned flight by 2015 – a timetable that capitalizes on the proven success of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft combination. While Dragon is initially being used to transport cargo to the International Space Station, both Dragon and Falcon 9 were designed from the beginning to carry crew.
Under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative’s base period, SpaceX will make the final modifications necessary to prepare Dragon to safely transport astronauts into space. These include:
· Seats for seven astronauts.
· The most technically advanced launch escape system ever developed, with powered abort possibilities from launch pad to orbit. SpaceX will demonstrate that Dragon will be able to escape a launch-pad emergency by firing integrated SuperDraco engines to carry the spacecraft safely to the ocean. SpaceX will also conduct an in-flight abort test that allows Dragon to escape at the moment of maximum aerodynamic drag, again by firing the SuperDraco thrusters to carry the spacecraft a safe distance from the rocket.
· A breakthrough propulsive landing system for gentle ground touchdowns on legs.
· Refinements and rigorous testing of essential aspects of Dragon’s design, including life-support systems andan advanced cockpit design complete with modern human interfaces.
SpaceX says that it will perform stringent safety and mission-assurance analyses to demonstrate that all these systems meet NASA requirements.
With a minimal number of stage separations, all-liquid rocket engines that can be throttled and turned off in an emergency, engine-out capability during ascent, and powered abort capability all the way to orbit, SpaceX says the Falcon 9-Dragon combination will be the safest spacecraft ever developed.
PHOTO: SpaceX Full-size Dragon Crew Engineering Model / Credit: SpaceX