Latest CCDev Agreement Supports Firm with Access to Soviet-era Hardware

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WASHINGTON Excalibur Almaz Inc., the American arm of a Russian-American joint space hardware venture based in the Isle of Man, became the latest participant in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 2 program.

News that the company signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA surfaced Oct. 25 in a hearing charter released by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has oversight of the U.S. space agency. The charter said the agreement was signed Oct. 17.

Excalibur Almaz Inc. issued a press release Oct. 27 saying the arrangement with NASA “facilitates the interchange of technical information between the EAI team and the NASA Commercial Crew Program Office at Kennedy Space Center.”

Excalibur Almaz Inc. submitted a CCDev 2 proposal to NASA, but the details have not been made public. The Houston-based entity is tied to the overseas Excalibur Almaz group, which has access to Soviet-era space hardware.

“We’re providing limited technical support consistent with the purpose of the CCDev 2 activity, which is to advance orbital commercial transportation concepts enabling significant progress on maturing the design and development of the system,” NASA spokesman Michael Braukus wrote in an Oct. 25 response to questions.

Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters here, would not provide any details about the agreement with Excalibur Almaz, except to say that “they have a credible concept.”

Excalibur Almaz has acquired several previously flown Soviet-era Almaz space capsules and plans to offer spaceflights to private passengers. The company includes among its senior leadership former NASA officials and astronauts, as well as former Russian cosmonauts.

Meanwhile, NASA issued a report Oct. 25, lauding the progress of its CCDev 2 program participants.

“In just six short months since the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners were selected, they have completed 21 of the 57 planned milestones,” NASA said. These milestones, representing a total of $32.4 million in federal funding, include airbag drop tests of Boeing’s proposed CST-100 capsule and various technical reviews of other planned crew-carrying vehicles.

In addition to Boeing Space Exploration of Houston, the companies receiving CCDev 2 funding are Blue Origin, Kent, Wash.; Sierra Nevada Corp., Sparks, Nev.; and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif. All signed funded Space Act Agreements with NASA in April.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Denver and rocket-motor manufacturer ATK Aerospace Systems of Magna, Utah, were also mentioned in NASA’s commercial crew progress report. Both companies have unfunded Space Act Agreements to human rate rockets that could one day be used to launch crew carrying vehicles.

NASA requested $850 million for its commercial crew program in 2012 and has warned that, unless the effort is fully funded in that and subsequent years, the agency will have to continue relying on Russian vehicles to fly astronauts beyond 2017, the target date for availability of commercial crew taxis.