Last week NASA hosted a news briefing allowing the agency and the four companies that have Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev-2) and/or Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) funded awards to provide updates on their efforts. Much of the media attention from the briefing focused on news that the companies are planning test flights of their vehicles with non-NASA crews, which was actually not a new development. There were not any major news coming out of the briefing, but a number of smaller, more incremental developments by the companies and NASA alike.
- The company, which did not receive (nor did it submit a proposal for) a CCiCap award, said it is in discussions with NASA to extend its current CCDev-2 award on an unfunded basis to allow it continue progress on its vehicle, leaving open the possibility of reentering the program at a later date.
- Blue Origin highlighted its work on a new liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen engine, designated the BE-3. That engine is capable of generating 100,000 pounds-force (445,000 newtons) of thrust. Tests of the engine are planned for mid-February at NASA Stennis.
- The company indicated it has completed its first three milestones of its CCiCap award on schedule, and remains on track to mature its CST-100 spacecraft design through a critical design review.
- SNC is working towards its final milestone of its CCDev-2 award, an uncrewed glide test of a Dream Chaser engineering test article. That flight is planned for later this quarter at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
- The company is ramping up staffing on the program, with plans to add up to 100 people over the course of 2013.
- SpaceX has completed the first four milestones of its CCiCap award, including a ground systems and ascent preliminary design review last month.
- The company’s plans for 2013 include a pad abort test at KSC in December, where the Dragon’s abort system will be flown directly off the pad. An inflight test of the system, where the Dragon escapes from its Falcon 9 rocket during ascent, is planned for April 2014.
- The company has also wrapped up its investigation into a shutdown of a Falcon 9 engine during an October launch of a Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. The root cause of the failure has been identified and reported to NASA, and more details will be released publicly in the near future.
- The agency is already starting plans for the next phase of the program, with a request for information due out soon and a formal request for proposals out in the fall. NASA would like to award contracts—more than one—by May 2014.
- Funding remains an issue, and NASa officials acknowledged the uncertainty that remains with the program. They added, though, that they’re gaining better understanding of the overall costs to develop these systems every month.