Commercial Crew Safety Certification To Run in Parallel with Spacecraft Development

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WASHINGTON — With an eye toward buying its first astronaut taxi services by 2017, NASA unveiled details Aug. 8 about a safety certification process that will be conducted in parallel with the industry-led development of new crewed space transportation systems.

Under more than $1 billion Space Act Agreements awarded Aug. 3, Boeing Space Exploration, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Sierra Nevada Space Systems are developing crew transportation systems designed to carry astronauts to the international space station. These development efforts will be almost entirely guided by industry, with input from NASA. In parallel with the design phase, however, NASA plans to conduct a government-run safety certification process under separate agreements it calls Certification Products Contracts, or CPCs.

“There are two reasons why we wanted to start now,” Ed Mango, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program said in a meeting with press and industry at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We believe that industry is at a point where they are going to need to make some decisions on their design if they would like to try to go after an [international space station] design reference mission. The timing for those decisions is now. It isn’t a couple of years from now, it’s now.”

No spacecraft can visit the international space station unless NASA certifies that it is safe.

A synopsis of the CPC solicitation is due out this month, with a formal request for proposals to follow in September, Mango said at the Aug. 8 forum at Kennedy. Five days after it releases the formal request, NASA will hold another industry day for companies interested in proposing. Awards for these contracts, which will not exceed $10 million, are expected in February, Mango said. NASA expects to make two to four awards under the first phase of CPC. The three companies that just won commercial crew Space Act Agreements do not automatically qualify for a CPC award, Mango said.

The chief deliverable for the CPC contracts will be data, Brent Jett, Mango’s deputy, said. These will include items familiar to aerospace contractors such as verification records and hazard analysis reports, Jett said.

“Hazard reports form the basis of getting through the NASA safety review process, and so those hazard reports are very important,” Jett said. “We want to engage early so that you can use those hazard reports and identification and analysis to influence your design to eliminate those hazards to the maximum extent possible.”

Unlike the Space Act Agreements that govern design and development of the industry-operated crew taxis, CPC work will be performed under traditional contracts administered under the Federal Acquisitions Regulation, or FAR. Using FAR contracts means that NASA is free to dictate design requirements.

Boeing’s 21-month Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Space Act Agreement is worth $460 million. SpaceX’s is worth $440 million. Sierra Nevada’s award is valued at $212.5 million. Boeing and SpaceX are developing wingless capsules while Sierra Nevada is working on a lifting body design called Dream Chaser. Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to launch on United Launch Alliance’s proven Atlas 5. SpaceX will use an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket, which has flown in space three times, including on one cargo delivery run to the international space station.