Commercial Crew Program head: The next two years will be exciting time for CCP
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — On the day that NASA, Boeing, and United Launch Alliance (ULA ) marked the first steps to enabling crew to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) in Florida, SpaceFlight Insider spoke with the head of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to get a true “insider’s” perspective as to how the agency views the upcoming flights of commercially-produced spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Lueders, who has previously served as NASA’s ISS Program’s Transportation Integration manager, is uniquely suited to direct CCP’s steps toward sending crews aloft on commercially-produced spacecraft. Following the departure of Ed Mango, CCP’s prior program manager, Lueders has worked to direct the program as it prepares for critical test flights which are set to take place as early as 2017.
“What is critical is that this is the first time that commercial companies will be developing their own systems to be able to carry NASA crew members up to the International Space Station,” Lueders said. “So what we are doing is following along as our partners are developing their systems and making sure that their systems meet our requirements.”
Lueders noted that each of the two remaining contractors, while still working to complete milestones under the various phases of the CCP contract, will see their products serve not only to ferry crews to and from the orbiting laboratory, but will also serve another critical role in terms of the station’s operations.
“Once these systems have become certified, what we will do is conducting the actual crew — what we call the post-certification missions. There’s a rotation of crew that goes up to the station about once every six months. So following certification, these companies will be actually delivering our crew members up to the International Space Station and their vehicles will stay on orbit for six months to serve as a ‘life raft’.”
This aspect of the commercial crew spacecraft’s missions has not been given a lot of attention and is critical in terms of ensuring the survival of the crew should something go wrong on orbit.
“While you have crew members up there, you have to have a way to get those crew members home in case there is a problem,” Lueders said. “Then, they bring them safely home after the six months. These companies will be doing that function for NASA.”
Until September of last year, there were three companies competing to participate under the CCP contract. However, when it came to whittle that number down to just two, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser was not selected to move forward. This left two providers to carry out the unprecedented task of developing spacecraft which will carry U.S. astronauts to the current sole destination in low-Earth orbit.
“During their certification phase, we don’t just do paper certification, we also ask them to do demonstration missions. So, both Boeing and our other provider, SpaceX, are doing an uncrewed demo, where they are proving the design, traveling to the station. Then they are going to fly at least one of our crew members up to the International Space Station as part of their certification activity, so, that will all be happening over the next two-to-three years. So, we’re very excited about that,” Lueders concluded.
SpaceFlight Insider is a space journal working to break the pattern of bias prevalent among other media outlets. Working off a budget acquired through sponsors and advertisers, SpaceFlight Insider has rapidly become one of the premier space news outlets currently in operation. SFI works almost exclusively with the assistance of volunteers.