NASA has released the Request for Proposals for the final round of the commercial crew competition. This is known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).
Click here to access the RFP page. According to the description on that page, NASA has “the goal for completion of the baseline work no later than 2017 and providing for issuance of IDIQ task orders within an ordering period not to exceed 5 years from the effective date of the contract.”
According to their press release, “NASA expects to award one or more CCtCap contracts no later than September 2014.” The actual timing will depend on Congressional funding, or lack thereof; a NASA Inspector General report issued earlier this month found that commercial crew “received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received.” In each year, the Obama administration requested a significant increase to close the gap during which NASA relies on the Russian space agency for crewed access, only to have Congress butcher the funding request.
The NASA web site for commercial space transportation is http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.
The current status of each of the three finalists:
- SpaceX achieved a safety review milestone in late October. They plan a pad abort test early next year, with an in-flight abort test during the summer. The cargo version of Dragon has already flown a demonstration flight and two deliveries to the International Space Station, with the next delivery scheduled for February.
- Boeing hopes to be operational in a former Shuttle orbiter hangar at Kennedy Space Center by spring 2014. According to an October 22, 2013 Florida Today article, Boeing hopes to launch a first test flight of the CST-100 in 2016. In September, Boeing tested the CST-100's steering jets at NASA's White Sands facility.
- Sierra Nevada flew on October 26 the first uncrewed free-flight landing test of the Dream Chaser, at the Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert. Dream Chaser was dropped by a helicopter from an altitude of 12,500 feet. Upon landing, the left landing gear failed to deploy, causing Dream Chaser to skid off the runway. According to a Sierra Nevada press release, “the high-quality flight and telemetry data throughout all phases of the approach-and-landing test will allow SNC teams to continue to refine their spacecraft design. SNC and NASA Dryden are currently reviewing the data. As with any space flight test program, there will be anomalies that we can learn from, allowing us to improve our vehicle and accelerate our rate of progress.”
Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser's first approach and landing free-flight test on October 26.
UPDATE November 20, 2013 — Alan Boyle of NBC News reports on the final found of commercial crew competition.
The timetable and resources available for commercial spaceships are key sticking points that are left unresolved in Tuesday's request for proposals. Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called on Congress to provide the full $821 million requested for the current fiscal year “to keep us on track to begin these launches in 2017.” Congress, however, has proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars less.