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NASA Space Science

NASA Awards New Commercial Crew Contracts 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the broadening-the-base dept.
FleaPlus writes "Continuing last year's successful CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) program, NASA has selected four companies to receive 'CCDev2' seed funding for commercial crew systems. The companies will only receive money if they meet development and testing milestones in the next year, with $75M going to SpaceX for developing their sidemount escape system and testing their Dragon capsule, $92M to Boeing for developing their CST-100 capsule, $80M to Sierra Nevada Corp.'s DreamChaser top-mounted spaceplane, and $22M for Blue Origin's capsule and pusher escape system."
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NASA Awards New Commercial Crew Contracts

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  • Re:Here are the SAAs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday April 19, 2011 @03:10AM (#35865184) Homepage Journal

    It's not the design that is required, it's the design review process.

    I've heard it described thus: justifying your design to supposed experts who quibble about the most inane parts of the design and ignore the most important. You could submit the most stupid stuff you can think of and they will debate you on the color of the paint you used.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday April 19, 2011 @03:33AM (#35865258) Journal

    It's also quite interesting to note who -didn't- get funding in this round (but are of course contenders for future funding rounds):

    ULA: This was the most surprising one, since basically all of the accepted non-SpaceX spacecraft proposals have ULA's Atlas V rocket as their baseline and would require upgrades to their emergency detection system. My thinking is that getting spacecraft development up and running was more urgent than making the necessary low-risk changes to existing rockets. If the spacecraft which baseline the Atlas V continue to develop smoothly, I strongly suspect ULA will get funding for CCDev3.

    Paragon: They got funding in CCDev1 to develop their turnkey life support system. I get the impression that it's pretty much ready to use in other spacecraft designs now, so I guess from this point on most of their commercial crew income will come from selling their system to the spacecraft manufacturers.

    ATK: One of the most anti-commercial companies in aerospace with quite a few politicians in their pockets, they created a bit of a stir when they announced their "Liberty" rocket. The Liberty was basically a rehash of their cancelled Ares I rocket with an Ariane upper stage. The stated reason for why they weren't chosen is because there's already enough potential rockets to launch on, although I expect to see a senator or two to raise a ruckus about this in the coming days. Apparently none of the spacecraft designers planned to use the ATK rocket as a baseline launcher, either.

    United Space Alliance (USA): These are the folks who manage the soon-to-be retired Shuttle program. Their proposal was basically to commercialize the Shuttles and keep them operating. This wasn't considered to fit into the scope of CCDev though (and presumably would have cost an absurd amount of money), so USA ended up withdrawing their proposal.

    Orbital Sciences: They proposed a lifting-body spaceplane kind of similar to Sierra Nevada's, but much more heavyweight.

    Excalibur Almaz [excaliburalmaz.com]: A really interesting company which purchased and was working to upgrade some flight-proven reusable space capsules from the former Soviet Union's 70s-era military space station program.

    There's a really fascinating selection statement from NASA [nasa.gov] which explains the rationale for which companies were and weren't chosen.

  • Re:Here are the SAAs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday April 19, 2011 @08:11AM (#35866436)

    I work with NASA so let me explain how we do things. I'm not saying it's the best way, just our way. Of course here is a good wiki that explains the government design review process. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_review_(US_Government) [wikipedia.org].

    The design reviews are there to ... review the design. The milestones are just places to mark how far along the design is. They are there to provide a stopping point to work towards so that everyone involved can review what is being done to make sure you are on track and you are actually doing the work. It can provide an opportunity for grey beards to chime in with some things you may have forgot to check before you do a lot of detailed design. Also sometimes payments are made at those points. So 99.99% of the work is in the design leading up to those reviews and the review itself gives the contract officers a place to review the work and make changes if necessary. It also helps to make sure the project is on schedule and budget.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n e t z ero.net> on Tuesday April 19, 2011 @09:37AM (#35867170) Homepage Journal

    Orbital Science is to me the real surprise here, as I expected them to do better. They seem to "get it" in terms of what NASA is expecting with the COTS/CCDev proposals and has been able to get money in the past for some very interesting work, especially with their Taurus II vehicle.

    As for ATK, they seem to be going into a rabbit hole. Living in Utah, I have some neighbors who work at the Plymouth, Utah facility, where they are convinced that the solid rockets are the only way to get into space. I don't know where to start there, but I will say that I've seen the SRB tests and there is some impressive although expensive engineering that has taken place. They are really struggling in terms of what to do with that facility now that the shuttle program is over.

    As for Excalibur Almaz, I had no idea that a non-US based company could even compete in the CCDev process. They are a scrappy little company in a very unusual place for spaceflight development (Isle of Man), but I was under the impression that American companies need only apply. I like their products and I have high hope that they will eventually become a major player in the spaceflight industry. They certainly are a company to watch for in the future and I don't think them failing to get an award is necessarily going to hurt them for any future projects.

    Blue Origin is the company that stood out the most in terms of getting an award. They have been hiding in the shadows for some time, where they seem to produce anti-vaporware. Essentially, they don't announce anything until after it is ready for flight, and only then if they are required by law to actually file for a flight permit. They stay very quiet in terms of commercial space development and seem to show up at seemingly odd times (compared to other spaceflight development companies). Because they are receiving money from the government, they have to be a bit more open now than they typically have been in the past.

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