blue origin engine test
January 15, 2014

NASA Unveils Progress Report Of Commercial Partners

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A free flight intended to evaluate a vehicle’s performance in a simulated space environment and launches designed to try out the early next-generation launch abort technology are among the project planned by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners in 2014, the US space agency announced on Tuesday.

Among the private-sector industries participating in CCP this year are CEO Jeff Bezos’ aerospace firm Blue Origin of Kent, Washington; The Boeing Company of Houston; electronic systems provider and systems Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of Sparks, Nevada; and Tesla Motors’ founder Elon Musk’s Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

According to NASA, the year ahead “will be pivotal” for the Commercial Crew Program, as they look to “announce one or more awards by August for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts that would lead to operational crewed flights” to the ISS. The agency “intends to use new commercial systems to fly US astronauts to and from the station within the next three years,” they added.

“Our partners have steadily moved pieces from the drawing boards and computer screens to factory floors and test stands across the country,” explained acting CCP manager Kathy Lueders. “The new year offers exciting opportunities for these companies to demonstrate the reach and potential of their hard-earned innovations.”

Each of the companies involved with the CCP program made tremendous strides forward in 2013 and are looking to build on those successes this year, according to NASA. Blue Origin successfully fired its BE-3 engine last year. This year, it plans to conduct a review of both sub-scale propellant tank assembly and space vehicle subsystems designs.

Boeing, on the other hand, completed a detailed design review in 2013. They report that their service module propulsion system is ready for production and integration with its CST-100 spacecraft. The company’s certification plan for its vehicle revealed that Boeing plans to test components and systems alongside the spacecraft as a whole, and their plan will guide the CST-100 through the development process and into actual mission use.

[ Watch the Video: Partners Mature Spacecraft Designs ]

“Boeing’s goal is to develop a safe and reliable commercial space transportation system and these reviews are vital to meet that goal,” noted Gennaro Caliendo, NASA’s Integration Team lead for Boeing. “They help ensure that the spacecraft and its myriad systems will work together to accomplish challenging missions, which require the utmost attention to detail.”

Officials from the US space agency have also been working alongside SNC engineers and designers in order to review the company’s system safety and certification plans for its Dream Chaser Space System. In the year ahead, SNC plans to conduct wind tunnel tests and continue development of its main propulsion and reaction control systems. They also plan to conduct a second free flight test of the Dream Chaser.

“The roadmap to understanding how safe and reliable a crew transportation system is takes a lot of details and dedication from all parties involved,” added Cheryl McPhillips, NASA’s Partner Integration Team lead for SNC. “When building a system that is to be trusted enough to carry humans into space, the most important part is building in safety from the start. SNC has made significant progress with its Dream Chaser to date.”

Finally, SpaceX completed its first commercial satellite launch using its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket in September, giving NASA engineers an opportunity to review the rocket’s performance. Derek Hassmann, NASA Partner Integration Manager working with the company, noted that the company has introduced new engines, software and avionics.

The company plans to launch people into low-Earth orbit using the Falcon 9, and in 2014, SpaceX plans to conduct in-depth reviews of it integrated systems while also continuing work on the ground systems. Furthermore, it has scheduled a pair of flights to test the launch abort systems on its Dragon partially reusable spacecraft.

“The overall conclusion is that SpaceX is on the right track,” Hassmann added. “The goal really isn't to judge their design, but to see how they cope with anomalies, see how they track their processes and control their hazards and how they're able to deal with the unexpected.”

“Milestones achieved by CCP’s partners are continuing to push commercial spacecraft and transportation system designs closer to reality. The successes of NASA and American aerospace companies are ushering in a new generation of space transportation capabilities, which will enable new opportunities for humans to live and work in space,” the US space agency concluded.