Boeing reaches final Commercial Crew design milestone
This week it was announced that the Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft had reached the final milestone outlined under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreement. The progress comes three months after the space agency’s Critical Design Review Board approved Boeing’s blueprint for a crewed low-Earth orbit (LEO) vehicle and it follows on the heels of legal wrangling concerning the two companies selected to move forward under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
NASA’s CCP initiative has dominated headlines since it announced on Sept. 16 that Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX ) had been selected as program finalists. Each received Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts for up to $4.2 and $2.6 billion respectively. A third competitor, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, was unsuccessful in its bid and has protested NASA’s award decision. Both the progress and the protest have resulted in sustained media attention for the final leg of the CCP’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase.
NASA reports that, through meeting its obligations under the CCiCap Agreement, Boeing has demonstrated “significant maturation” in its transportation system, including both the CST-100 capsule and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket it will use as its ride to orbit.
This marks the culmination of Boeing’s design stage, which has lasted four years. Boeing initially partnered with NASA in 2010 when it was one of five participants selected in the first leg of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) multiphase project. The company passed the second CCDev phase a year later in April. Boeing entered the CCiCap phase in August 2012 under which it was awarded $460 million to continue design development. In 2013 NASA awarded an additional $20 million to Boeing.
Over this period and the sustained investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, CST-100 and its launch vehicle have undergone an extensive battery of tests, according to NASA:
“Engineering teams tested and modified mission flight software, including launch, docking, on-orbit, and re-entry and landing maneuvers. Teams conducted mission simulations to advance communications and mission operations planning. Models of the CST-100 and the Atlas V launch vehicle were tested in wind tunnels. Launch abort engines and thrusters the spacecraft will use for maneuvering in space were test-fired. Work was done to refine the spacecraft and service module designs and make modifications required for human rating the existing commercially available United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Ground systems design and operation included launch site modification plans for crews and pad workers. Landing and recovery details also were conceived, reviewed, tested and approved.”
With its final CCiCap certifications complete, Boeing can begin planning for full-scale flight test article construction. Test flights for both Boeing and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule are expected to take place in 2017. Assuming they are successful, both companies are contracted to provide at least two flights to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the first time U.S. astronauts have flown to the orbiting laboratory on an U.S.-produced launch system since the cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
Since the final flight of one of NASA’s orbiters, STS-135 on shuttle Atlantis, the United States has been dependent on Russia for flights to the space station. This has proven to be a weakness, one revealed by Russia’s military actions in the Ukraine.
Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.