Commercial Crew Program
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Commercial transportation to and from the station will provide expanded utility, additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery on the orbiting laboratory. The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. As commercial companies focus on providing human transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA is freed up to focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions.
Since the Mercury program in the early 1960s, NASA has used an almost identical operating model to achieve its goals of human spaceflight. This includes the Space Shuttle Program and the American portions of the International Space Station. NASA would identify a need for a crew transportation system and then the agency's engineers and specialists would oversee every development aspect of the spacecraft, support systems and operations plans. A commercial, aerospace contractor would be chosen to build the system, ensuring that it meets the specifications spelled out by NASA. Personnel from NASA would be heavily involved and oversee the processing, testing, launching and operation of the crew system to ensure safety and reliability. All of the hardware and infrastructure would be owned by NASA.
NASA identified a need for a crew transportation system and a broad set of requirements that would be necessary to ensure crew safety. In the case of commercial crew, the need centered around a safe, reliable and cost-effective means of getting humans to low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station, and return safely to Earth. Interested companies are free to design in a way they think is best and are encouraged to apply their most efficient and effective manufacturing and business operating techniques. The companies own and operate their hardware and infrastructure. NASA's engineers and aerospace specialists work closely with the commercial companies, allowing for substantial insight into the development process and offering up expertise and available resources. The Commercial Crew Program is the first time this model has been implemented.
To accelerate the program’s efforts and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capabilities, NASA awarded more than $8.2 billion in Space Act Agreements (SAAs) and contracts under two Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) phases, the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, Certification Products Contract (CPC) and Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).
Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) is the second phase of a two-phase certification plan for commercially built and operated integrated crew transportation systems. Two FAR-based, firm fixed-price contracts were awarded in September 2014 following an open competition - Boeing for $4.2 billion and SpaceX for $2.6 billion. Through its certification efforts, NASA will ensure the selected commercial transportation systems meet the agency’s safety and performance requirements for transporting NASA crew to the International Space Station. NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion under CCtCap contracts. CCtCap Source Selection Statement.
In January 2019, SpaceX successfully completed a static fire test of its Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon atop the rocket at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida, in preparation for Demo-1. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner continued to undergo testing in preparation for its Orbital Flight Test, and United Launch Alliance is conducting final processing of the Atlas V rocket that will launch Starliner from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA and its Commercial Crew Program providers Boeing and SpaceX agreed in February 2019 to move the target launch dates for the upcoming inaugural test flights of their next generation American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station. The agency targetted March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April. These adjustments allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.
The uncrewed test flights will be the first time commercially-built and operated American spacecraft designed for humans will dock to the space station. The first flights are dress rehearsals for missions with astronauts aboard the vehicles. Commercial crew has continued working toward these historic missions throughout the month of January 2019. SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed) wsa planned for July 2019, and Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed) was NET August 2019.
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