Atlas V selected to boost CST-100

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Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation vehicle, the CST-100, will climb to orbit aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket through a series of unpiloted and piloted test flights planned for 2015-16, officials from the two companies announced Aug. 4.

A series of three test flights with the Atlas V and the seven-person CST-100 capsule are planned for 2015; with sufficient funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, Boeing could be ready to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the re-usable capsule in the first quarter of 2016 with all-NASA crews, says John Elbon, Boeing vice president and program manager of the company’s Houston-based Commercial Crew Program.

Boeing becomes the third of four companies developing a crew transportation service under the $270 million NASA CCDev-2 initiative announced earlier this year to select Centennial, Colo.-based ULA and the Atlas V for the launch component. The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting body space plane and the Blue Origin capsule are the others.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has naturally chosen its own Falcon 9 for crewed as well as cargo versions of its Dragon capsule.

“This is the quickest way to close the gap and get U.S. crews flying again,” Elbon told reporters during a briefing. “It’s an affordable approach that will leave NASA funding to develop capabilities for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.”

With the retirement of the long-running space shuttle program last month, NASA must rely on Russia’s venerable Soyuz for the transportation of astronauts to and from the space station until U.S. commercial providers are available.

Elbon and George Sowers, ULA vice president of business development, laid out a flight test schedule that would follow a 2014 pad abort demonstration of the CST-100. Unpiloted flight tests would follow with an orbital systems checkout in the first quarter of 2015 and an abort demonstration at maximum dynamic pressure in mid-2015. The CST-100, crewed with Boeing test pilots, would attempt a rendezvous with the space station in late 2015. With sufficient develop funds, Boeing would be ready to launch its first NASA crews to the orbiting science laboratory in the first quarter of 2016.

Boeing selected the Atlas V 412 version, which is the core rocket configured with a single solid-rocket booster and a dual engine Centaur upper stage, for the test and demonstration phase. Operations are planned for Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Boeing completed an evaluation process in late July that included assessments of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ATK/Astrium Liberty rocket that would combine first and second stages from the U.S. and European partnership, as well as ULA’s Atlas V.

The final selection was based on performance, reliability and cost, Elbon says. The Atlas V has scored 26 consecutive launch successes for national security, NASA and commercial payloads.

Nonetheless, Boeing intends to host a second launch component competition for operations beyond the 2015-16 test activities, Elbon said.

On July 18, ULA and NASA announced an unfunded Space Act Agreement to start qualifying the Atlas V as a human-rated spacecraft for CCDev-2 participants. The effort includes a “part-by-part” assessment of the rocket, a probabilistic risk assessment of spacecraft safety and a systems requirement review.

ULA also is working on an Emergency Detection System (EDS) as part of the initiative with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding the company received under the 2010 CCDev-1 program. The EDS in combination with pad escape systems, also in development, should make a significant contribution to matching NASA’s human rating requirements, according to Elbon and Sowers.

ULA was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to produce the Delta IV as well as the Atlas V under the U. S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

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