The CST-100 and Dragon version 2 have been tapped by NASA to carry astronauts to the International Space Station on missions that will herald a new era in space transportation driven by private companies who also will be able to market their launch services to people around the world.
NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to build their spacecraft during the final phase of a crew transportation development effort that began in 2010. The agency’s Commercial Crew Program will advise the companies as they advance from design to flight test vehicle to operational spacecraft, along with all the associated ground support, and launch and recovery systems.
Previous phases saw the completion of the design work up to the point when components, systems and subsystems could be manufactured, along with flight-worthy pressure vessels. The earlier work, some of which is still under way, included complex tests of thrusters, launch abort system elements, software, parachutes and control systems. More tests, agreed to under the previous development initiative called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, are slated to take place later this year by several partners.
The selection of the companies won’t end NASA’s working relationship with other companies under their existing Space Act Agreements. The space agency remains committed to offering its extensive expertise in spaceflight to help companies advance their designs and potentially bring a spacecraft into operation on their own.
NASA and its aerospace industry partners have marked their calendars for 2017 with the goal of certification – including at least one test flight to the International Space Station with a NASA astronaut aboard.
“We should see a key when we look at these spacecraft, a key to the doorway of space that will be opened by more and more people. It’s going to let us have more people working on the station, conducting more scientific research than we’ve been able to do so far. I don’t mean one or two more observations a week, I mean the full-on studies we are counting on to fill in the gaps about long-duration spaceflight so we can survive the years-long trip to Mars and back.
These spacecraft might seem pretty small to carry so many big dreams, but I think they’ll do alright.
NASA is committed to ensuring the/these systems are held to the same rigorous safety standards as previous government human spaceflight systems. We have worked carefully and diligently to assure our safety requirements span all mission phases and adequately address hazards, including pad emergencies, in-flight aborts and emergency landings.
Boeing and SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program recognize the extraordinary work we have ahead of us to reach our goal of certifying a crew transportation capability in 2017. We are grateful to have worked with eight industry partners throughout the past four and a half years and we know industry is up to the challenges ahead.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden reveals today’s big news: Boeing and SpaceX will fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the next couple of years aboard their CST-100 and Dragon version 2, respectively.
Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is beginning today’s ceremony: “This is a big day for us and I’m glad you all could come out here to see the work we are undertaking to transform America’s premier launch site into a spaceport like no other. We’ve made a lot of history from here and with today’s announcement, I think everyone will see that we are on course to accomplish much, much more.”
Excitement is building as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other senior officials are gathering at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to announce who will transport astronauts to the International Space Station. You can watch the ceremony live on NASA TV at www.nasa.gov/ntv and don’t forget to check back for more details. We’ll post information of all sorts, too, so you can find out why this is so important for our spacefaring nation.
NASA will make a major announcement today at 4 p.m. EDT regarding the return of human spaceflight launches to the United States. Whoever is chosen will have the goal to achieve certification of the system – including a test flight to the International Space Station with a NASA astronaut — in 2017, returning a critical capability to America and greatly expanding the scientific research potential of the orbiting laboratory. Watch the announcement live on NASA TV at www.nasa.gov/ntv and find out details throughout the day on the Commercial Crew Program blog.
The International Space Station will get a new Earth observation experiment this month when the ISS RapidScat sensor is sent into orbit on the next SpaceX commercial cargo flight. The station, which is the destination for crewed CCP missions, offers a unique platform for science focused on Earth. Researchers will speak in-depth about the potential for the orbiting laboratory and what RapidScat and a series of other Earth science experiments will offer Earth scientists. The briefing will air on NASA TV beginning at 1 p.m. You can watch it on stream here.
The Goal: CCtCap stands for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability. It is a contract for one or more American aerospace companies to complete development of a human space transportation system capable of carrying people into orbit, specifically to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth. To be certified to carry NASA astronauts, the systems must meet NASA safety standards. It’s the last step in a cycle of five separate spacecraft transportation development Space Act Agreements and certification contracts NASA began in 2010.
How it’s Done: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) will implement CCtCap in a similar manner used during each previous stage of the development process – as a public-private partnership. The industry partner is responsible for the development of its own spaceflight system, which it will own and operate. NASA’s expert team of engineers and spaceflight specialists are working with the companies and certifying the systems to ensure any new crew transportation system is safe and reliable for NASA astronauts. For previous human spaceflight systems including the space shuttle, NASA designed, owned, and operated the systems, and the agency was responsible for the overall development.
Buying a Service: Once development is complete, NASA plans to buy a service – simply put, like getting a taxi ride to low-Earth orbit. Because the companies will own and operate the systems, they will be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs.
Innovation: This new process lets industry partners apply innovations and corporate expertise into their designs. NASA provides a top-level set of requirements the companies must meet, but how they meet those requirements is up to them. Each company thoroughly tests its materials and mechanisms to prove its design is sound, and NASA certifies that the systems meet the agency’s requirements.
Commercial Investment: Industry partners are investing their own resources into the development, too. In this way, NASA and industry share the cost of development and both are invested in and committed to a successful outcome.
Contract Terms: NASA’s contract, whether with one company or more, will include at least one crewed flight test per company to verify the integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once the test program has been successfully completed and the systems achieve NASA certification, the contractor/s also conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station, effectively ending the nation’s reliance on foreign providers.
Award: NASA has not specified a set number of awards under CCtCap. In late August or September, the agency will select the company or companies that will build an operational space transportation system. While the procurement process is ongoing, the agency cannot answer specific questions about the proposals received or the award decision-making process.
Open Competition: CCtCap is an open competition using FAR-based procedures that will result in a firm fixed-price contract. Any U.S. company could have submitted a proposal for a CCtCap contract. It is not limited to companies that earned previous contracts. However, all companies that submitted proposals should have demonstrated a level of maturity equivalent to the first phase of NASA certification efforts during the agency’s Certification Products Contract (CPC)
Safe Haven: The spacecraft must be able to serve as a lifeboat, able to safely and quickly evacuate the space station’s crew in an emergency. It also must demonstrate it can serve as a 24-hour safe haven during an emergency in space and be able to stay docked to the station for at least 210 days.
Journey to Mars: By encouraging private companies to provide human transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit – a region NASA’s been visiting since 1962 – the nation’s space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America’s investment in the International Space Station. NASA also can focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions, including flights to Mars in the 2030s.