Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NASA Begins the Future

Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Manager Ed Mango, left, and Deputy Program Manager Brent Jett host a Program Strategy Forum Monday at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

At a press conference attended only by a dozen people, NASA announced its next round of competition that could result in the selection of the nation's first commercial crew spacecraft.

Click here for the NASA press release.

Click here to download NASA's official solicitation documents.

The documents request candidates to submit questions by end of business on February 13. A "pre-proposal conference" will be held February 14 at the Cocoa Beach Courtyard Marriott to answer those questions. Proposals are due by 1:30 PM on March 23.

According to the press release:

NASA's announcement asks industry to propose a base period of approximately 21 months, running from award [in August 2012] through May 2014. The goals of the base period include completing the design of a fully integrated commercial crew transportation system, which consists of the spacecraft, launch vehicle, ground operations, and mission control. In addition, NASA is asking for the proposals to contain optional milestones beyond the base period leading to and culminating in a crewed orbital demonstration flight.

The solicitation document spells out details of the crewed orbital demonstration flight:

Proposal must include optional milestones beyond the base period culminating in an orbital crewed demonstration flight. NASA goals for this period include significant test activities leading to the Participant’s certification of the system for orbital crewed demonstration flight. This demonstration should meet as many of the following goals as possible:

1. Mission duration: a minimum of 3 days on-orbit
2. Orbital altitude: achieve an orbit with a minimum altitude of 200nm
3. Demonstrate controlled orbital maneuverability (for example: a simulated rendezvous)
4. Demonstrate system sizing sufficient for a minimum of four crew members (NASA does not intend to provide crew for any proposed demonstration flights and recommends flying only the minimum crew necessary for a demonstration flight)

SpaceFlightNow.com quotes NASA deputy commercial crew program manager Brent Jett as saying "he is confident the agency will be able to award at least two companies agreements."

UPDATE February 8, 2012Florida Today reports on yesterday's CCiCap press conference.

Companies seeking NASA money to help develop private space taxis must submit plans showing how they could launch their own crews on a test flight by the middle of the decade.

After evaluating those plans, NASA this summer expects to award more than one company between $300 million and $500 million over 21 months to advance their designs for commercial crew transportation systems.

“We think it’s important to understand what it takes for a partner to go from now until the time they could fly a crew to orbit,” said Ed Mango, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, during a forum Tuesday at Kennedy Space Center.

The program hopes to develop systems that could return NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on U.S. vehicles “no later than 2017, and hopefully much earlier than that,” said Brent Jett, the deputy program manager.

Other reports:

MSNBC.com "NASA Outlines the Next Phase for Its Space Taxi Program"

Parabolic Arc "NASA Details Commercial Crew Strategy"

Space News "Bids Due in March for NASA’s Third Commercial Crew Round"

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