Just days after selecting industry partners for a third round of competitive commercial crew space transportation development, NASA on Wedesday outlined plans to certify the safety of the winning designs and operators, launch at least one piloted demonstration mission to the International Space Station and ultimately begin regular flights.
The goals meet NASA’s previously announced objective of initiating competive commercial passenger transportation to and from the space station under service contract arrangements by 2017 — and sooner, if possible, said Ed Mango, NASA Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities manager.
The U. S.has relied on Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft alone for the transportation of NASA as well as European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts to the orbiting science lab since retiring the space shuttle fleet in mid-2011. Ultimately, NASA Commercial Crew initiative is to lead to a range of commercial orbital missions for tourism, to private space stations and other non-government ventures.
On Friday, the space agency announced the selection of Boeing’s CST-100, the SpaceX Dragon, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser for a third round of development funding. Totaling $1.1 billion, the monies are intended to nurture the competitive effort through the critical design phase of development over the next 21 months.
Boeing and SpaceX are developing seven-passenger capsules; Sierra Nevada’s design is a seven-person winged lifting body based on previous NASA testing that would return to Earth by landing on a runway rather than under parachute for an ocean or land recovery. All three vehicles would be launched on multi-stage rockets. The work is beign carried out under a series of flexible NASA Space Act Agreements.
On Wednesday, Mango and his deputy, Brent Jett, presented plans for a two phase certification strategy that will mark a transition to more traditional services contract arrangments with the eventual commercial transportation providers.
In February, NASA plans to award two to four competitively selected companies for $10 million, 15-month contracts to establish a collaborative NASA safety certification progress. The contracts will offer the development teams some flexibility in devising criteria that meet the intent of NASA’s certification requirements, said Mango.
The competition will be open to companies currently not receiving NASA Commercial Crew Development funding, offering them an opportunity to participate as well.
A second phase, winnowing the number of NASA development partners down to one to two companies and an as yet unspecified amount of funding, would start in early 2015 and lead to the launching of at least one design reference mission, or actual test flight, to the space station. It, too, would be an open competition.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Development initiative began in early 2010 with the award of $50 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding toSierra Nevada, $20 million; Boeing, $18 million; United Launch Alliance, $6.7 million; Blue Origin, $3.7 million; and Paragon Space Development Corp., $1.4 million.
The second round followed in mid-April 2011 with a $270 million total NASA investment: Boeing, $92.3 million;Sierra Nevada, $80 million; SpaceX, $75 million; and Blue Origin, $22 million.
Friday’s $1.1 billion in third round awards went to Boeing, $460 million; SpaceX, $440 million; and Sierra Nevada, $212.5 million.
NASA has also worked with ATK and Excalibur Almaz on unfunded commercial crew alternatives.