With competition coming at last to American military satellite launches, civilian developments take on new importance. A NASA program called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) is a major source of potential funds for key players in space launch and space vehicles, which could solve a civilian problem while improving the military’s options.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, American manned missions to the International Space Station have mostly involved Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which costs about $63 million per seat. The lone exception has involved the commercial space innovator SpaceX, whose unmanned Dragon v1.0 capsule docked at the ISS in May 2012. NASA continues to pursue its own Space Launch System heavy rocket and Orion capsule for manned spaceflight, but in the mean time, its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program aims to spur development of lower-cost American options that could supplant or supplement Soyuz.
These “space taxis” will rely on heavy-lift rockets to make it into space. Their purpose isn’t military, but their configurations are very good news for the USA’s space industrial base…
Contracts & Key Events
Sept 16/14: Main contracts. NASA picks Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon v2 to carry up to 7 astronauts to the International Space Station under the CCiCap program, and issues up to $6.8 billion worth of contracts. The goal is a 2017 mission to the ISS with an astronaut on board, and the awards would include options for 2-6 operational missions after test flights are done.
Boeing’s contract is worth up to $4.2 billion, and they’ll build 3 CST-100s at their Commercial Crew Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing recently completed the capsule’s Critical Design Review (CDR) and Phase 2 Spacecraft Safety Review; they say that they’re the only competitor to pass a CDR as well as complete all CCiCap milestones on time and on budget. The CST-100 is scheduled to undergo a pad-abort test in 2016 and an uncrewed flight in early 2017, leading up to the first crewed flight to the ISS in mid-2017. All flights will use Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V.
SpaceX’s contract is worth up to $2.6 billion, and builds on an existing $1.3 billion ISS resupply contract that’s already an important pillar for their company. They’ll launch their Dragon v2 atop their own Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL. Dragon v2’s launch escape system is designed provide escape capability from the time the crew enters the vehicle all the way to orbit. Part of that escape system includes 8 SuperDraco engines built into the side walls, producing up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to help carry astronauts to safety. Sources: NASA, “Boeing and SpaceX Selected to Build America’s New Crew Space Transportation System” | Boeing, “Boeing CST-100 Selected as Next American Spacecraft” | SpaceX, “NASA Selects Spacex To Be Part Of America’s Human Spaceflight Program”.
CCiCap contracts: Boeing, SpaceX
Aug 3/14: Dev Awards. NASA issues about $1 billion in development contracts under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. It includes design work up to the point when components, systems and subsystems could be manufactured, along with flight-worthy pressure vessels. It also includes complex tests of thrusters, launch abort system elements, software, parachutes and control systems. Overall, 7 firms entered, and 3 won, leaving at least 1 firm with a very big investment decision ahead of it. SpaceX has a slot using its own rockets, and the other 2 winning entries will use Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V EELV:
Boeing in Houston, TX. $460 million for their CST-1000 capsule. It will launch using Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V rocket, rather than Boeing’s own Delta IV. Their capsule has 19 milestones to meet en route to its complete critical design review, the most of any winning design. Even so, The company is aiming for its 1st manned test flight by 2016.
Sierra Nevada Corporation in Louisville, CO. $212.5 million for their Dream Chaser space plane, an evolution of a NASA’s former HL-20 test vehicle that’s boosted into orbit on an Atlas V. The on-board propulsion system also has a heritage: it’s derived from SNC’s hybrid rocket motor technology, which flies on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne & SpaceShipTwo. Dream Chaser has already been through a full system Preliminary Design Review and 1st captive carry flight, and is aiming for its 1st manned test flight by 2016.
SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA. $440 million for a manned version of the Dragon capsule that recently docked at the International Space Station. They’ll continue to use their own Falcon 9 booster, and are aiming for a 2015 test flight. They’re also promising powered crew escape ability from launch pad to orbit, and a landing system that would let the capsule touch down on land.
NASA’s 3 CCiCap winners will also be investing company funds in their projects, which will push the total investment well north of $1 billion.
These wins won’t benefit the Pentagon directly, but the fact that 2 of the winners will use the same Atlas V EELV that launches some of the USA’s military satellites will be welcome news, amidst official reports that are expressing deep concern about the American space rocket industrial base. Thanks to a new Open Launch Framework, NASA launches involving SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will also make a contribution, by moving them closer to certification for higher-risk payloads. Sources:
NASA release | Boeing release and media kit | SNC Space release | SpaceX release | Fox News, “NASA invests $1.1 billion in space shuttle replacements to launch as early as 2015” || The United Launch Alliance (Atlas V rockets) congratulates its partners Boeing and Sierra Nevada.
CCiCap development finalists
The Outsiders: Decisions, Decisions
click for video
Beyond the winning firms, 2 other firms had investment decisions of their own to make as of August 2013. By September 2014, another firm was left pondering its options.
ATK’s Liberty system was the only other qualifying bid, but their partnership with EADS-Astrium didn’t make the final 3 for NASA funding. The partners could decide to continue with their capsule, which would launch aboard a fusion of Space shuttle booster rockets (1st stage) and Astrium’s Arianne 5 (2nd stage), with Safran’s Vulcan 2 engine as the capsule’s final propulsion. NASA has engaged with ATK in unfunded projects before, but the firms would need to either put up private funds, or find other public funding sources, such as European governments or the ESA.
Blue Origin, backed by Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos, has a different kind of decision to make. Their craft’s chosen booster rocket is the Atlas V, and lower-cost manned access to space is their core mission, but their key question revolves around timing and ambition. Absent any injection of extra government funds, the firm can just keep to their own schedule, rather than taking on the extra risk of trying to meet all of NASA’s priorities by 2017.
SNC’s Dream Chaser space plane is an evolution of a NASA’s former HL-20 test vehicle that’s boosted into orbit on an Atlas V. The on-board propulsion system also has a heritage: it’s derived from SNC’s hybrid rocket motor technology, which flies on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne & SpaceShipTwo. Dream Chaser has already been through a full system Preliminary Design Review and 1st captive carry flight, and was aiming for its 1st manned test flight by 2016.
After the September 2014 contract award left them out, SNC needs to make some hard decisions about whether or not to continue chasing this dream. Virgin Galactic is a great customer to have for continued technological development, but they aren’t a volume customer at this point. Meanwhile, rivals like Boeing ($4.2 billion) SpaceX ($2.6 + 1.3 billion) and Orbital Sciences ($1.9 billion) have natural funding sources from contracts to resupply the International Space Station.
* NASA – Commercial Crew Program.
* NASA – Space Launch System heavy rocket. CCiCap is intended as a bridge. If budgets continue to squeeze and commercial performance is good enough, it could supplant SLS.
* NASA – Orion capsule.
* DID – EELV Contracts: After the Merger. Covers the emerging competitive framework for space launch, and the technologies involved including the Atlas V and Falcon 9.
* Space.com – Special Report: The Private Space Taxi Race.
* ATK – Liberty system.
* Boeing – Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100.
* Sierra Nevada Corp. – Dawn of a Dream. Dream Chaser
* SpaceX – Dragon capsule.
News & Views
* NASA (July 20/12) – Atlas V Design Reviewed for Crewed Launches. Atlas V has launched numerous satellites and robotic missions into space for NASA, including the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Juno probe to Jupiter. Human spaceflight is a step beyond that.