NASA's Commercial Crew Program and industry have completed the first step in the certification process that will enable American-made commercial spacecraft safely to ferry astronauts from U.S. soil to and from the International Space Station by 2017. The completion of the Certification Products Contracts (CPC) marks critical progress in the development of next-generation American space transportation systems that are safe, reliable and cost-effective.
"We’re making great strides toward returning human spaceflight launch capability to U.S. soil," said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This certification is important to ensuring our crew members have reliable transportation to and from the space station where they are conducting research essential to advancing human exploration farther into the solar system."
Under the contracts, The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems (SNC) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) completed reviews detailing how each plans to meet NASA's certification requirements to transport space station crew members to and from the orbiting laboratory. NASA awarded the contracts totaling $30 million in December 2012.
"There’s more than one correct way to build a spacecraft, and CPC has been an invaluable learning process for our industry partners and the agency," said Kathy Lueders, NASA Commercial Crew Program manager. "It is extremely exciting to see the unique approach each company brings to the table.”
Throughout the CPC process, the companies provided plans to show safety has been a key element in the design of their spacecraft and demonstrate how their systems will meet NASA’s performance requirements.
"It's allowed them to mature their plans and gave us additional insight into each company’s approach," said Ed Burns, systems engineering and integration acting manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "It also gave our NASA team and the partners a chance to work together towards certifying their systems."
The second phase of the certification process, the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), is open to any company with system designs at a maturity level consistent with the completion of the first certification phase. NASA will announce one or more CCtCap awards later this year. This second phase will include at least one crewed flight test per awardee to verify the spacecraft can dock to the space station and all its systems perform as expected. Contracts also will include at least two, and as many as six, crewed, post-certification missions to enable NASA to meet its station crew rotation requirements.
Although CCtCap will enable NASA to acquire a capability to transport crews to the space station, NASA intends that U.S. providers market and use their systems for other customers.