CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The three American companies building next-generation spacecraft that NASA could call on to carry astronauts into orbit in the future will perform much of their work along Florida's Space Coast, home of the agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements (SAAs) through the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.
"Our commercial crew and cargo efforts are based on a simple but powerful principle," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden during the CCiCap announcement. "By investing in American companies and American ingenuity, we're spurring free-market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck while enabling NASA to do what we do best, reach for the heavens."
Throughout the next 21 months, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of Louisville, Colo., Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., and The Boeing Company of Houston will complete their spacecraft and launch vehicle designs, test their hardware, and then showcase how they would operate and manage missions from launch through orbit and landing.
"We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country," Bolden said.
The proposals submitted by these three companies include processing and launching from Kennedy or the center's adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), which could equal new jobs along Florida's Space Coast.
"The KSC team has the human capital expertise, unique facilities and specialized equipment to propel the agency into the next phase of space exploration," said Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, "and the Commercial Crew Program is a key part of that."
Sierra Nevada Corporation
SNC will receive up to $212.5 million to further advance its Dream Chaser spacecraft, which resembles NASA's space shuttle but is smaller and based on improvements to the agency's HL-20 lifting-body design.
During two previous development rounds with CCP, the company matured the spacecraft's guidance, navigation and control system and tested its hybrid propellant propulsion system. It also built an engineering test article for approach-and- landing tests that are scheduled for later this year as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with the company.
SNC has partnered with United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Centennial, Colo., to launch its spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket. As progress is made with SNC's spacecraft, ULA will be working to outfit its launch pad at CCAFS's Space Launch Complex-41 with the structures and systems necessary to support crewed missions, such as crew access walkways and emergency escape systems.
As the only lifting-body spacecraft under development for crew transportation, the Dream Chaser will utilize Kennedy's unique Shuttle Landing Facility for traditional runway landings.
Space Exploration Technologies
SpaceX will receive up to $440 million for its crewed Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket combination. The next-generation Falcon rocket will feature the company's Merlin1D engine to provide greater lift capability to support the heavier weight of an astronaut crew plus cargo.
The uncrewed version of Dragon made history in May as the first commercially built spacecraft to rendezvous and then berth with the International Space Station.
SpaceX's mission control will be at its headquarters facility in Hawthorne, while launches will take place from Space Launch Complex-40 at CCAFS. The company is working to outfit its Dragon capsule with the capability to land on dry land, rather than the ocean's corrosive salt water, and a targeted landing site is still in work.
During the previous partnership with CCP, the company provided details about its side-mounted launch abort system that will employ SuperDraco engines as well as conceptual modifications to its launch pads to support crewed missions. The company also outlined crew living arrangements in its capsule, such as environmental control and life support equipment, initial displays and controls.
The Boeing Company
Boeing will receive up to $460 million to continue to develop its CST-100 spacecraft, which underwent rigorous testing during two previous development phases with CCP. The spacecraft's engines, orbital maneuvering system thrusters, and parachute landing and thermal protection systems were initially designed and tested.
Plans already are in work for the CST-100 to be manufactured and assembled in Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at Kennedy. The center also will be the home of the company's mission control facility.
An Atlas V, using the rocket's dual-engine Centaur upper stage, will loft Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft to low Earth orbit from CCAFS. "I am very confident in the ability and capability of our three partners under iCap," said CCP Manager Ed Mango. "I believe that we can make great progress with these three partners."
The new CCiCap agreements follow two previous commercial endeavors by NASA to spur the development of transportation systems and subsystems. Four funded and three unfunded partners worked to meet 62 complex milestones during CCDev2, which should be completed by the end of this year.
"In just over a year, our CCDev2 partners made steady progress in the design and development of their systems," Mango said. "As we wrap up those partnerships under CCDev2, we commend the teams for their hard work and dedication, and we look forward to possibly working with them again in the future."
The creativity of NASA's industry partners during CCiCap will set the stage for a crewed orbital demonstration mission around the middle of the decade. Future development initiatives will eventually lead to the availability of human spaceflight services for the agency to send its crews to the International Space Station, where critical research is taking place daily to benefit all of humanity. It could also make space more accessible and open for business for other government and commercial customers.