On CCDev-2’s eve, Boeing’s plans

CST-100 illustration

Illustration of Boeing's proposed CST-100 commercial crew capsule.

NASA announced Monday morning that, later today, it will announce the awardees of its second round of Commercial Crew Development funding, aka CCDev-2. One of the leading contenders to get an award is Boeing: the company received a first-round CCDev award last year and has made progress on its spacecraft design, a capsule called CST-100. Boeing also has commercial partnerships with Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures, the latter involving selling seats on CST-100 flights to commercial customers, such as space tourists.

Speaking at a press conference during the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs last week, John Elbon, vice president and program manager at Boeing Space Commercial Crew Programs, said Boeing would continue development of the CST-100 concept under a CCDev-2 award. The goal would be to have a preliminary design review (PDR) this fall, and a critical design review (CDR), the last major step before actual construction of the vehicle, about a year later. That would put Boeing on a path to conduct a pad abort test of the CST-100’s escape system in 2013, followed by two uncrewed test flights in 2014 and finally a flight with two test pilots around 2015.

Exactly what Boeing would be able to accomplish under CCDev-2 will depend on how much funding is available; reports indicate as much as $300 million will be available, going to multiple awardees. Boeing got $18 million under CCDev-1 and contributed a “like amount” of company funds to the effort, Elbon said. He added that he hoped to be able to perform tests on airbags and parachute designs, as well as a lighter-weight version of the abort engine tested under CCDev-1.

While Boeing has emphasized that the CST-100 is compatible with a wide range of launch vehicles, including Atlas, Delta, Falcon, and ATK’s proposed Liberty rocket, Elbon said they plan to focus going forward on a single vehicle. “We’re currently in the process of going through a procurement for that launch vehicle,” he said, without specifying which one. He later said that while they would focus on that vehicle for integration work, they would still be open to working with over vehicles, including non-US vehicles like the Ariane 5 and Japan’s H-2.

But what if Boeing is, for some reason, shut out of the CCDev-2 program? The company would still be eligible to compete for the later full-fledged commercial crew development effort, but would clearly be at a disadvantage compared to companies that do receive CCDev-2 awards. “We’d have to assess the market and the likelihood that NASA would want to pursue this further, at a later time,” Elbon said. “We’re dependent on NASA as an investor in this process, and we’re also dependent on NASA as a foundational customer to close our business case.”

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