NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and its industry partners have spent the last few years investing their time, money, efforts and reputations into shaping America’s next-generation human spaceflight capabilities.
“This program reflects a true partnership between NASA and industry where our goals are aligned toward ending the gap in U.S. human access to space” said Phil McAlister, NASA Commercial Spaceflight Development director, during a televised status update Jan. 9 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA and company representatives participated in the update to discuss their accomplishments to date and lay out their plans for 2013 and beyond as they work toward ensuring America has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems launching from U.S. soil by mid-decade.
“The agreements are paid-for-performance milestones, so our partners only get paid when they show demonstrative progress toward developing their crew transportation systems,” McAlister said. “This allows us to ensure that our partners are making good progress and are making good use of taxpayer money.”
Agreements made with The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) Space Systems and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) during NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are set to bring about some exciting milestones this year. Advances made by companies under CCiCap are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.
Boeing is on track to pick up the keys this summer to Kennedy’s former Orbiter Processing Facility-3, now called the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), to begin manufacturing its CST-100 spacecraft. C3PF is undergoing modifications by Space Florida to support the clean-floor processing needs of the spacecraft. Incorporating astronaut feedback into the cockpit design and demonstrating flight software, ground operations and landing/recovery plans are planned for 2013.
“Everything is focused on making sure we properly and aggressively mature the design so that we can have a very robust critical design review at the end of this phase,” said John Mulholland, Boeing’s Commercial Programs Space Exploration vice president and program manager. “It will give us confidence that we can move in with very low risk into the qualification and flight demonstration phase.”
Boeing’s subcontractor, United Launch Alliance, will focus on verifying that its dual-engine Centaur can perform as planned on the Atlas V rocket and testing the launch vehicle adaptor between the spacecraft and the rocket. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne also will complete additional propulsion testing on the CST-100′s launch abort engines.
SNC is gearing up for its first free-flight test of the Dream Chaser spacecraft at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California early this year. During the test, the vehicle will be dropped for a full autonomous flight to demonstrate the aerodynamics and controllability during the approach-and-landing phase that culminates in a hard surface runway landing and runway rollout.
“The facility there has been the home of so many tests, including the shuttle tests, and we’re going to be picking that mantle up and starting our first flight tests here in the first quarter of this year,” said Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman.
The company currently is testing its Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and reaction control system, performing landing gear tests and flight simulations. Testing of the company’s hybrid rocket motors is ongoing at its facility in California.
SpaceX also has ambitions to fly its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule during CCiCap. A pad abort test scheduled for late 2013 will prepare the company for an in-flight abort test in 2014.
“We’ll end this year with a flight-like, full-scale pad abort test for certification as well as risk mitigation,” said Garrett Reisman, SpaceX Commercial Crew project manager. “We’re going to take a Dragon, as flight-like as possible, take it from our pad over at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and demonstrate our ability to get away from the Falcon 9 on the pad from zero altitude and zero airspeed if we were ever having a bad day on the pad.”
Reisman said they’ll spend CCiCap stressing and bending their primary Dragon structure to prove it’s ready to be manufactured. They’ll culminate their agreement with an in-flight abort test during which Dragon will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and then light up its SuperDracos to prove the abort system could safely whisk the spacecraft and its crew members away from a failing rocket and safely splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Having strapped into a rocket before, I can tell you that I have personal and emotional reasons of why I want to build a vehicle that is safer than anything that’s ever flown before by an order of magnitude,” said Riesman, who is a two-time space shuttle astronaut and International Space Station flight crew engineer.
The same three CCiCap partners were awarded contracts that begin Jan. 22. Called the Certification Products Contracts (CPC), the initiative will allow certification plans to take shape for agency missions to the International Space Station.
During the conference, Blue Origin also announced its plans to continue its Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) partnership with NASA in an unfunded capacity. The company previously received $22 million to advance its subsystem technologies, a new Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen engine and pusher escape system. A continuation of a CCDev2 partnership would allow the company to receive expert feedback from NASA on the progress of its engine development, biconic-shaped spacecraft and integration plans for future flights.
As the companies set out to prove their systems can be called upon for crewed missions to low-Earth orbit, the program is setting its sights on a second phase of certification contracts for station missions, which could be announced in mid-2014.
“I think the partnership between NASA and each of these companies clearly shows that we have a very vibrant space industry in the United States,” said Ed Mango, CCP manager. “The four companies here today are capable and are the leading edge of what it takes to get folks back into low-Earth orbit over time.”