Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NASA progress report charts commercial spacecraft milestones

By J.G. Wallace

NASA has released a status report on progress in the development of commercial rockets and space vehicles. The report charts various “planned milestones” for the six companies participating in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, or COTS. NASA is hopeful that some of the spacecraft under development could carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2016.

NASA’s Return on Investment Report, issued October 25, 2011, stated “Over the last two months, NASA’s industry partners demonstrated substantial progress toward achieving crewed spaceflight in the middle of the decade by completing six more Space Act Agreement milestones.”

“In just six short months since the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners were selected, they have completed 21 of the 57 planned milestones.”

The six participating firms are Sierra Nevada, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Blue Origin LLC, Alliant Techsystems (ATK), United Launch Alliance, and Boeing (with their development partner Bigelow Aerospace).

The report made note that Boeing, together with their Bigelow Aerospace teammates had completed a series of successful air bag drop tests for the CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft.

Also highlighted was NASA’s partnership with Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in the technical development of their commercial Liberty launch system. ATK was formed in 1990 as a subsidiary of Honeywell Inc., and was the sole manufacturer of the reusable Solid Rocket Boosters used to launch the Space Shuttle.

The report also noted that astronauts have been assigned to the various COTS participants to help bring NASA’s expertise and knowledge of more than 50 years of human spaceflight to the commercial development process. NASA's crew members evaluate the partners’ designs, and provide them feedback and recommendations based on lessons learned from their real experiences living and working in space.

The full report is available in PDF format here

The Commercial Crew Development program's progress will be the subject of a U.S. House Committee on Science hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Watch a live Webcast

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