With a legal challenge now behind them, two companies that won NASA contracts offered more details Jan. 26 about their plans to develop and test commercial crew vehicles, while the agency expressed optimism those vehicles will be ready for service by 2017.
Orbital Sciences Corp. expects to take delivery of the first pair of its newly purchased Russian rocket engines in June or July, with a second pair arriving before the end of the year, under a contract whose value Orbital said has been overstated in the Russian press.
S3 and its partners are preparing to roll out the first phase of their three-step business plan with microgravity aircraft flights scheduled to begin during the second half of this year, followed by small-satellite launches in 2018 and suborbital passenger flights sometime after 2020.
At a NASA press conference Jan. 26 to discuss the agency’s commercial crew transportation efforts, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX anticipated performing at least 50 launches of its Falcon 9 rocket before the first test flight of a Dragon spacecraft carrying crew, planned for early 2017.
The European Commission is under pressure to resolve nagging money issues surrounding its two flagship space programs, the Copernicus environment-monitoring effort and its fleet of Sentinel satellites; and the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network.
Hoping that the third time is the charm, the Planetary Society announced Jan. 26 that it will launch a solar sail experiment in May as a secondary payload on an Atlas 5 rocket.
Two competitive national security launches, the first to be awarded under the U.S. Air Force’s main satellite launching program in 15 years, will be among the Defense Department’s most closely watched space-related procurements this year.
In two of this year’s higher-profile civil space procurements, NASA’s commercial cargo carriers face challengers for follow-on contracts to haul supplies to the International Space Station, while Ball Aerospace is competing to build another polar-orbiting weather spacecraft for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
SpaceX will drop its lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force in exchange for the service making more national security launch missions available for competition.