Representatives from the recent Phase 2 awardees of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program were on-hand last week at Kennedy Space Center to speak to reporters about the future of their respective companies and spacecraft. One of the practical outcomes of this meeting was that it provided a coherent sketch of the timeline for potential United States manned commercial orbital spaceflight services.
Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX were each ear-marked a portion of the $269.3 million NASA dollars recently awarded to stimulate a commercial replacement for the retiring Space Shuttle. To this end, it was announced that Sierra Nevada Corp. is planning to begin atmospheric tests of its spaceplane-style Dream Chaser orbital vehicle in 2012 with the possibility of crewed flight by 2014. Forerunner SpaceX, which is already slated to deliver cargo to the International Space Station using its Dragon spacecraft, stated that their Apollo-style transportation system could also be ready for crewed flight by 2014 if additional development funding were supplied. Boeing, which took the largest piece of the funding pie this round, said that they are aiming to offer full crew orbital transportation services via their Apollo-style CST-100 spacecraft in 2015. The development of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft is bringing up the rear, with the company focusing exclusively on sub-orbital development in the forseeable future.
This means that three habitable orbital spacecraft systems with two fundamentally different craft designs are nearing or are already engaged in orbital testing. With this sort of healthy competition to push innovation and development, the orbital NewSpace market is evidently strengthening, which is excellent news for support organizations like Astrowright Spaceflight Consulting LLC.