HOUSTON — A mockup of Boeing’s CST-100 entry in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is undergoing internal evaluation by astronauts this week amid renewed optimism over how the initiative to regain a U.S. capability to transport crews to and from the International Space Station by 2017 is faring in Washington.
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 committees 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 competing vehicle designs from SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and others.
“We have to stay focused on execution,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s deputy CCP manager. “We have a program, and it is executing. I think Congress can recognize that and fund it appropriately.”
“It’s still a draft in work,” echoed John Mulholland, Boeing program manager for commercial programs, speaking about the House and Senate appropriations marks. “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 under way, 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.
The evaluations collected this week could lead to modifications that would undergo a final round of astronaut assessments prior to the CDR, said Chris Ferguson, Boeing’s director of crew and mission operations and a former shuttle commander.
Boeing has leaned hard on a half-century of prior spaceflight experience and borrowed from its success with commercial airline production to tame CST-100 development costs. The capsule’s outer mold line, for instance, closely resembles that of Boeing’s losing design in the competition with Lockheed Martin for NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle.