Today was rumored to be one of the days that NASA would announce the winner or winners of contracts for the next phase of the agency’s commercial crew program, called Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap). Barring an unlikely last-second announcement, that won’t happen, but NASA did have some things to say yesterday about commercial crew.
In a press release Thursday, NASA highlighted a “summer of advancements” with the three companies that have Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) awards from NASA, as well as Blue Orion, which is working on an unfunded extension of its earlier Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev-2) award. “We have a set of detailed criteria drawn up so we can adequately evaluate what they are doing and they can tell us where adjustments fit in with their system’s overall success,” NASA commercial crew program manager Kathy Lueders said in the statement. “It’s exactly what we had in mind when we kicked off this effort four years ago.”
Perhaps the biggest development was word that Boeing had completed its final two CCiCap milestones, including an integrated critical design review (CDR) of its CST-100 spacecraft, which Boeing heralded with its own release. “The challenge of a CDR is to ensure all the pieces and sub-systems are working together,” John Mulholland, manager of commercial crew efforts at Boeing, said in the release. “Now we look forward to bringing the CST-100 to life.”
The other two CCiCap awardees, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and SpaceX, still have some milestones on their agreements that may not be completed until early next year. SNC recently completed a review of its Dream Chaser engineering test article with NASA officials in advance of its second free flight, planned for later this year. SpaceX, meanwhile, is working through some reviews before it performs two abort tests of its Dragon V2 spacecraft. Earlier this month, SpaceX’s Garrett Reisman said those tests, one from ground level and the other in flight on a Falcon 9, are planned for November and January, respectively.
All three companies, meanwhile, are anxiously awaiting when NASA will award CCtCap contracts. Thursday’s NASA release offered no new guidance: “In August or September, NASA plans to award one or more contracts that will provide the agency with commercial services to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the end of 2017.”