[Satellite News 08-03-12] NASA has issued $1.1 billion in contracts to private-sector aerospace companies to develop and launch rockets that will carry its next-generation manned spaceflight missions into space, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced Aug. 3. The winners of the massive Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract awards were: SpaceX; Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC); and Boeing, which develops spacecraft using rocket engines made by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Bolden said NASA would provide seed money to the winners, allowing them to compete and create a new private-sector manned spaceflight sector.
The CCiCap awards represent a critical part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCD) program, which aims to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The United States’ only current option to send astronauts to the ISS requires paying $63 million for rides on Russia’s Soyuz rocket.
Boeing won the largest of the three awards, raking in $460 million to develop a space capsule that will be ready for test flights by 2016. Boeing engineers will build a seven-person Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft that is designed to fly atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket.
“Today award demonstrates NASA’s confidence in Boeing’s approach to provide commercial crew transportation services for the ISS,” Boeing Vice President and General Manager of Space Exploration, John Elbon said in a statement. “It is essential for the ISS and the nation that we have adequate funding to move at a rapid pace toward operations so the United States does not continue its dependence on a single system for human access to the ISS.”
SpaceX won a $440 million contract with NASA to develop the successor to the retired NASA Space Shuttle. SpaceX expects to undertake its first manned flight by 2015 – a timetable that will depend on the continued development of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft combination. SpaceX’s Dragon is initially being used to transport cargo to the ISS, as it developed the original concept for both the capsule and it Falcon 9 launcher to handle manned missions.
“This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said in a statement. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology … We 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, the Falcon 9-Dragon combination will be the safest spacecraft ever developed.”
SpaceX will make the final modifications necessary to prepare Dragon to safely transport astronauts into space under the CCiCap initiative’s base period. The company, like Boeing, plans to include seats for seven astronauts in its design.
SpaceX also said it would demonstrate that Dragon will be able to escape a launch-pad emergency by firing integrated SuperDraco engines to carry its spacecraft safely to the ocean. SpaceX also will conduct an in-flight abort test that allows Dragon to escape at the moment of maximum aerodynamic drag.
“We also will develop a breakthrough propulsive landing system for gentle ground touchdowns on legs, as well as provide refinements and rigorous testing of essential aspects of Dragon’s design, including life-support systems and an advanced cockpit design complete with modern human interfaces,” said Musk.
SNC confirmed that NASA awarded $212.5 million to the company’s Dream Chaser Space System as part of the CCiCap program. The 21-month long contract requires SNC to create a commercial human transportation system to low-Earth orbit and will begin this month. SNC Corporate Vice President and Head of Space Systems President Mark Sirangelo said the company plans to complete development of the Dream Chaser Space System and transport crews to space as early as 2016.
“This award will allow our Program to continue to make great strides in the development of the Dream Chaser Space System,” Sirangelo said in a statement. “SNC has integrated the efforts of its powerful team of leading aerospace companies, academic institutions, and NASA Centers to significantly advance the development of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle and the associated mission, ground, and crew systems, as well as launch vehicle integration. To date, the SNC team has completed 19 milestones; including a full system preliminary design review and first captive carry flight, in addition to a significant number of additional tasks. The remaining milestone under the second round of NASA funding will be an approach and landing test scheduled for later this year, mirroring the first flight test of the Space Shuttle Program.”