(Sen) - Boeing, which is building a spaceship called the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100, has completed its first performance milestone under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, it was announced yesterday.
In August 2012 NASA announced it had awarded a CCiCap Space Act Agreement worth $460m to Boeing. CCiCap is the third phase of NASA's Commercial Crew Program which is helping to fund and support the development of spacecraft capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and Low Earth Orbit.
The CST-100 will be able to carry up to seven astronauts. The capsule will be launched by a modified Atlas V rocket. Under CCiCap NASA has set Boeing milestones to be achieved over a 21 month period, with the option for further milestones over a longer period. The spacecraft's development has already passed 50 milestones under the two previous phases - Commercial Crew Development rounds 1 and 2 - of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
The first CCiCap milestone completed was an Integrated Systems Review during which Boeing showed NASA the latest designs of its CST-100. The spacecraft, Atlas V rocket launch system and ground operations were evaluated for compliance with NASA's requirements, including safety and ISS integration. Boeing also ran through all the testing that had been done under the earlier Commercial Crew Development 2 program. The aerospace company has been conducting parachute and airbag drop tests, abort engine firing and wind tunnel tests.
Boeing's John Mulholland said: "The [review] established a firm baseline configuration that will allow our team to push forward with the final vehicle design".
The Atlas V rocket that will be used to launch the CST-100 is operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a company that is owned 50 percent by The Boeing Company and 50 percent by Lockheed Martin. ULA is currently working on modifications that will be required to certify the Atlas V for human spaceflight so that it can be used to lift the CST-100 capsule to orbit.
Boeing are working toward the first test flight in 2015. As well as the potential for NASA to contract with Boeing to take astronauts to the space station, the CST-100 will have other commercial opportunities once in production, and another US space company, Bigelow Aerospace, has said it plans to use the CST-100 to taxi space tourists to its proposed BA 330 inflatable space stations.
Artist illustration of Boeing's CST-100 crew capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Credit: Boeing image
Boeing is one of three US companies awarded funding by NASA under CCiCap. The other awards went to SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
SpaceX, which is developing a crewed version of its Dragon capsule, was awarded $440m by NASA under CCiCap. Dragon has already reached orbit twice in its cargo configuration. On its second orbital mission it berthed successfully with the International Space Station (ISS), demonstrating its ability to deliver cargo to the station. The unmanned Dragon is due to fly to the space station again in early October to deliver supplies under its commercial resupply contract with NASA.
Sierra Nevada Corporation, which is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft, received an award worth $212.5m under CCiCap and completed its first milestone, a program implementation plan review, in August. The Dream Chaser looks more like a space shuttle and is being designed to land on a runway.
Whilst NASA is planning to use Boeing, SpaceX and other commerical businesses to transport crew and cargo to Low Earth Orbit and the ISS, it is building its own new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), for deep space missions. SLS would be used to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew vehicle that NASA is designing to carry astronauts to asteroids, the Moon and eventually to Mars.