With Boeing’s selection of Atlas V to launch its CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, the picture relating to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has become a bit clearer. Without any delay, let’s dive into it.
A Big Win for Big Rocket
For an “OldSpace” rocket company under threat from new competition, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is doing pretty well here. Companies building three of the four human spacecraft that NASA is funding under CCDev 2 have selected the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. These vehicles include Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, and Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle. The other company, SpaceX, has its own Falcon 9 rocket for the spacecraft it is building.
ULA PR — United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed Friday the first combined Atlas and Delta rocket shipment from its factory in Decatur, Ala., to the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the specially-designed ship called the Delta Mariner.
“ULA is focused on providing the best value to our customers. Utilizing the Mariner to ship both Atlas and Delta launch vehicles simultaneously offers up to $800,000 cost savings per trip and long-term cost savings for our customers,” said Mark Wilkins, vice president of Program Operations.
“ULA’s formation continues to garner a substantial return on investment and exceeds ULA’s consolidation savings commitment to the United States government.”
NASA PR — DENVER — Through a new agreement, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will provide technical information to NASA about using the Atlas V rocket to launch astronauts into space. The announcement was made Monday at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“I am truly excited about the addition of ULA to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program team,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Having ULA on board may speed the development of a commercial crew transportation system for the International Space Station, allowing NASA to concentrate its resources on exploring beyond low Earth orbit.”
NASA and ULA’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) requires ULA to provide data on the Atlas V, a flight-proven expendable launch vehicle used by NASA and the Department of Defense for critical space missions.
NASA PR — NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) managers will hold a news conference on Monday, July 18, at ULA headquarters in Centennial, Colo., to announce a new Commercial Crew Development agreement.
The news conference will begin at 11 a.m. MDT in the first floor conference center.
The briefing participants are:
— Ed Mango, NASA Commercial Crew Development program manager — Dan Collins, chief operating officer, ULA — Dr. George Sowers, vice president, ULA business development
Denver, Colo. (Feb. 8, 2011) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed the most significant portion of the final milestone for its Commercial Crew Development Emergency Detection System (EDS) project last month, demonstrating the EDS test bed in ULA’s Denver Launch Support Center using the high fidelity Systems Integration Laboratory (SIL).
During testing last year, several abort simulation runs were successfully generated that illustrate the EDS abort detection capability for a wide range of anomalous launch vehicle conditions, both slow and quick to evolve into a catastrophic event. As soon as EDS detected the anomalous condition, the launch vehicle issued a command to the spacecraft to separate and initiate the abort escape sequence. As part of the demonstration, launch vehicle and spacecraft were animated using a high fidelity simulation tool to provide a visualization of the abort sequence once it had been initiated. Various combinations of the launch vehicle and winged and capsule type spacecraft were used during the simulated abort sequence.
The government has published status updates on NASA’s five Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 1 grants which were awarded last February. Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and Paragon Space Development Corporation have completed their work as planned by the end of the calendar year. The Bigelow/Boeing team and United Launch Alliance have been given extensions through March and April, respectively. NASA awarded a total of $50 million for the first round; it will award about $200 million in additional grants in March.
Individual status reports follow after the break. (more…)
U.S. Air Force To Request $1.8 Billion for EELV Program as Costs Skyrocket Space News
Projected budgets for the U.S. Air Forceâ€™s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program will rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years as the cost of materials has increased sharply and the service buys more rockets to provide stability for the industrial base, according to government and industry sources.
The Air Force plans to request $1.78 billion for its primary launch vehicle program in 2012, some $450 million more than it previously planned to request for 2012, a government source said. The serviceâ€™s five-year budget plan for EELV totaled $6.3 billion in its 2011 spending blueprint, and that figure will rise to $10 billion in the request it sends to Congress in February, the source said….
In my talk with David Livingston on The Space Show last night [listenhere], he mentioned a Space News story from last month about a spike in U.S. launch costs that I had missed. I looked it up today and here’s the essence of it:
While 2011 is expected to be a banner year for NASAâ€™s planetary science program with three missions scheduled for launch, future initiatives are threatened by budget uncertainties and a dramatic spike in the price of launch vehicles, according to an agency official.
â€œThis is a really difficult financial environment,â€ Jim Green, NASAâ€™s director of planetary science, said Dec. 15 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union here.
Rides into orbit for NASAâ€™s 2011 planetary missions, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the Juno mission to Jupiter and the Moon-bound Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), were purchased under the first NASA Launch Services (NLS) contract. That contract, which does not include specific quantities of rockets to be purchased or delivery dates, sets prices for launch vehicles and related services for NASAâ€™s planetary, Earth observing, exploration and scientific satellites.
ULA Says Workforce Reductions Will Help Cut Costs Space News
United Launch Alliance (ULA) will reduce its work force by 19 percent over the next few years as it weeds out unneeded overlaps in Atlas and Delta rockets and finds other efficiencies, ULA Chief Operating Officer Dan Collins said.
The head-count reduction, which follows a 16 percent staff cut over the past four years, should enable Denver-based ULA to reduce operating costs and offer reduced launch-service prices to its U.S. government customer, he said.
Collins said ULA, established in December 2006, has already surpassed its goal of cutting launch costs by 25 percent over the previous generation of rockets, and that more cost reductions are on the way….
What is old is new again in the American space program.
The possibility that United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V booster will be sending Americans into space within a few years increased significantly this week as bids were submitted for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Atlas V is a descendant of the rocket that sent the first American, John Glenn, into orbit around the Earth in 1962.
Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation has proposed building a new lifting-body spacecraft that would launch aboard the Atlas V. The rocket is also the baseline booster for Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser shuttle, which are also in the running for crew missions. Both OSC and Boeing have said they are designing their vehicles to launch on other rockets as well.
NASA will fund multiple options when it awards CCDev contracts in March. The space agency wants redundant access to orbit that would use a combination of different boosters and spacecraft to get crews into orbit. That goal is shared by Bigelow Aerospace, which is a partner with Boeing on the CST-100 capsule. Bigelow plans to launch a series of commercial space stations into orbit beginning in 2014-15. It will eventually need more than 20 launches annually to support its facilities.
The selection of Atlas V would mean a lot of work for ULA’s assembly facility in Decatur, Ala., where 680 employees do the final assembly on the rocket. The company also builds the Delta IV rocket, a more powerful and expensive that is also a potential candidate for human missions. ULA’s main competitor for CCDev funding on the rocket side is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which successfully lofted a Dragon spacecraft into orbit last week.
A bit more on Robert Bigelow’s visit on Wednesday to the United Launch Alliance production facility in Decatur, Ala. Media reports indicate that Bigelow’s company will need a large number of rockets to sustain its planned space stations. He also said he has six nations lined up to lease the facilities.
Russia, China and now India and Japan know that the future is still in human space flight. The mission of NASA must ensure that the U.S. remains the global leader. To that end, Congress has a duty to ultimately provide the necessary resources for NASA to accomplish this mission.
The Washington Post has an excellent summary of NASA’s budget standoff that includes some interesting insights into the process. It mentioned how opponents of the President’s commercial space plan focused so much attention on Elon Musk and SpaceX, pointing to a lack of experience as a reason for continuing with NASA’s Constellation program.
Given the attacks on Musk and his company, the Senate compromise funding commercial space efforts passed only after Boeing gave congressional staffers a detailed presentation about its own space plans, participants in the negotiations said. The company announced an agreement last week to develop commercial space taxis for the space station.