August 05, 2013
Despite potential funding troubles, a new sense of optimism is surrounding NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to transport crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.
A mockup of Boeing's CST-100 entry for the CCP is undergoing internal evaluation by astronauts. The Apollo-shaped capsule has met eight of 19 milestones outlined under Boeing's $460 million NASA Commercial Crew Integrated Capability agreement, as the company aims for a critical design review (CDR) in the spring of 2014 and an unpiloted flight test in 2016. In parallel, Boeing is working under a $10 million, first-phase contract to certify the spacecraft's safety and performance for a piloted demonstration mission to the ISS in 2017.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved $500 million and Senate appropriators $775 million for commercial crew development as part of NASA's 2014 budget. The first figure is well below the Obama administration's $821 million request, a figure NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has characterized as essential to meet the 2017 objective. Nonetheless, agency and company managers believe legislators are losing their skepticism over a program that has so far committed $1.4 billion to funding competing vehicle designs from SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and others.
“We have a program, and it is executing,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's deputy CCP manager. “I think Congress can recognize that and fund it appropriately.”
“It's still a draft,” echoed John Mulholland, Boeing program manager for commercial programs, speaking about the House and Senate spending bills. “I think they will come up with a number that NASA can use.”
The two CCP officials spoke July 22 as a second round of internal capsule evaluations by astronauts got underway, the first in a new, full-sized mockup of the CST-100, which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts or combinations of crew and cargo to the ISS. Boeing unveiled the mockup at the company's Houston Products Support Center.
“It's an American vehicle, it's an upgrade,” said NASA astronaut Serena Aunon, following her favorable evaluation of the seating, instrument panel, lighting and other internal features while dressed in a bulky space shuttle Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). Without a U.S. alternative, Aunon and her U.S., Canadian, European and Japanese colleagues are stuck with Russia's three-person Soyuz as the only means of transportation to the ISS following the shuttle's 2011 retirement.