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About 30 NASA engineers from across the agency will work with counterparts from United Launch Alliance (ULA) under a new agreement to begin qualifying the Atlas V rocket as a human-rated launch vehicle for private spacecraft being developed under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) effort.
Under a space act agreement (SAA), NASA and ULA will spend 6-9 months going though the Atlas V “part by part” to ensure it meets the human-rating requirements NASA has released in draft form. ULA also will continue work on the Emergency Detection System (EDS) it started developing with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding under last year’s CCDev-1 program. Each party will pay for its own work under the unfunded SAA.
“The modifications required for Atlas V are pretty minimal,” George Sowers, ULA vice president for business development, said in a press teleconference July 18. “Probably the major one from the launch vehicle standpoint is the addition of this Emergency Detection System.”
Under development for both Atlas V and Delta IV, which is in the running to launch the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the EDS is a vehicle health-monitoring system designed to detect an imminent launch-vehicle failure and alert the crew riding atop it of the need to abort.
Companies developing two of the four CCDev-2 human spacecraft — the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane and the Blue Origins capsule — have selected Atlas V as their preferred launcher, and Boeing is considering it for its CST-100 capsule. All three designs include launch-abort systems. In combination with the EDS and pad-escape systems also in development, the Atlas V should meet NASA’s human-certification requirements, Sowers says.
“I personally don’t foresee any additional redundancy requirements,” he says. “The Atlas V is currently single-fault tolerant in most of the active failure modes, but a detailed assessment of that down through all the different parts and failure modes is part of what we’re trying to accomplish during this SAA.”
Sowers says ULA already is working with Sierra Nevada and Blue Origins, using those companies’ CCDev-2 funding as well as its own, to adapt the EDS to their vehicles. Under the SAA with NASA, the company will develop hazard analyses to fly humans on the Atlas V, develop a probabilistic risk assessment of the vehicle’s safety and conduct a systems requirement review.
Full-scale certification of the vehicle as safe for flight will be conducted at the system level of launch and crew vehicles, according to Ed Mango, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. Mango says the agency hopes to have at least one commercial crew vehicle ready to fly — either on an Atlas V or the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 — by “mid-decade.”