Image Credit & Copyright: NASA Commercial Crew Poster.
Today September 16, 2014 NASA announced that they have awarded their 6.8 billion dollar Commercial Crew contract to SpaceX and their Dragon V2 as well as Boeing and their CST-100 capsule. Of that 6.8 billion, spaceX was awarded 2.6 billion and Boeing 4.2 billion.
The mission of this initiative is to return human spaceflight to the United States and end our reliance on Russia to get to the International Space Station (ISS). As of now, assuming both parties pass all future mandated tests and trials, crew service to the ISS from the United States may be ready to begin by 2017. There are no plans to take these vehicles anywhere other than the ISS at this time. With NASA working at 104% thrust toward completion of the new Space Launch System (SLS) and the Lockheed Orion capsule readying for its first test flight atop a Delta IV Heavy possibly this winter, the Space Coast is a busy place once again!
SpaceX will launch their Dragon V2 on their Falcon9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) as they have leased it for 20 years.
Boeing’s CST-100 will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41). Boeing and Blue Origin (founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) are currently collaboration on an engine for the Atlas V’s first stage to replace the Russian RD-180’s currently in use.
The two major players beat out another favorite; Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini shuttle. SNC states that they hope to continue development of Dream Chaser without the support of NASA. If I remember correctly, I think they are in dialogue with ESA as well as JAXA; so best of luck to them as it’s a beautiful vehicle.
Now that we can see the proverbial summit or light at the end of the tunnel, I hope that we also include European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronauts as well as Roscosmos cosmonauts in this endeavor as well. I personally believe that ending our reliance shouldn’t mean alienation and that just like Apollo-Soyuz and throughout the hardships of the Cold War we can continue to get along and work together in a place where borders cannot be seen out the window.
That being said, I don’t think there’s anything in this contract that states these vehicles can’t be used for privately funded tourism into orbit. Obviously these flights wouldn’t interfere with Commercial Crew flights but it seems like a natural progression to me. Anyone have a few million lying around you want to grant to me?……..anyone?………
NASA Commercial Crew page: http://www.nasa.gov/content/ccp-index-page-2/#.VBg9M_ldUn1
NASA 10 things to know about Commercial Crew: http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/CCP10things.pdf
SpaceX Commercial Crew announcement page: http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/09/16/nasa-selects-spacex-be-part-americas-human-spaceflight-program
Boeing Commercial Crew announcement page: http://www.boeing.com/boeing/Features/2014/09/bds_cst100_09_16_14.page
NASA Space Launch System (SLS): http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/
Lockheed Martin Orion Crew Capsule: http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/what-we-do/space/human-space-flight.html
Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems: http://www.sncspace.com/
Blue Origin: http://www.blueorigin.com/