July 19, 2011

NASA Begins Next Generation Launch Platform

On Thursday NASA lands its Atlantis space shuttle ending 30 years of shuttle service by the space agency leaving nothing concrete to replace it with. However, NASA has taken the next step to establishing its replacement, BBC News is reporting.

The agency has signed an agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to assess its Atlas 5 rocket for use in human missions. The Atlas launch platform is currently used to send US military satellites as well as unmanned science probes for NASA.

Although the US will be paying Russia for rides to the International Space Station (ISS) on its Soyuz capsules, eventually it hopes to buy transportation services from US commercial operators.

Monday's Space Act Agreement (SAA) signed between NASA and ULA will help determine whether the rocket is up to the task. The SAA involves no exchange of funds.

ULA, which is a joint venture between rocket manufacturers Boeing and Lockheed Martin, will instead invest its own money in the review which is expected to last into early 2012.

The review will determine which components on the Atlas currently meet NASA's stringent requirements for human spaceflight and which elements might need upgrading if the rocket is to be certified for manned missions.

"I am truly excited about the addition of ULA to NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program team," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Having ULA on board may speed the development of a commercial crew transportation system for the International Space Station, allowing NASA to concentrate its resources on exploring beyond low Earth orbit."

As part of the agreement, NASA will participate in milestone and technical review briefings and provide technical feedback on milestone completion and assist in identification of risks and possible mitigation strategies. The majority of the work will be completed by the end of this year.

"The Atlas 5 is the proud inheritor of decades of improvements and lessons learned. The Atlas program has a record of 97 consecutive successes - that's the best in the world. The Atlas 5 has launched 26 times with 100 percent success," George Sowers, ULA's vice president of business development told reporters.


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