1.What is Commercial Crew?
The NASA-administered Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev) began with the intention to stimulate the development of privately-funded vehicles capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station and to secure American independence from foreign launch providers. Under the program, companies are expected to develop their own vehicles that would meet NASA’s requirements for sending astronauts to the ISS and LEO and return them safely back to Earth. In the current CCtCap (Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities) phase, SpaceX and Boeing have been chosen by the administration to complete the overall CCDev requirements and send astronauts to the ISS as early as 2017. In September 2014, NASA stated that it would award SpaceX and Boeing up to $2.6Billion and $4.2Billion respectively upon completing contract requirements.
The main requirements for a commercial crew vehicle include:
- Safely sending and returning four astronauts and their equipment to and from the space station.
- Provide a contingency for safe return of astronauts in the event of an emergency.
- Serve as a 24 hour safe haven in the event of an emergency.
- Be capable of remaining docked to the ISS for 210 days (compared to the Space Shuttle’s 12 day maximum).
SpaceX’s and Boeing’s crewed vehicles (Crewed Dragon and CST-100) will be launched from Florida with the former riding on top of a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center and the latter on board an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41.
2. Benefits of Commercial Crew
The commercial crew program will confer many benefits to NASA and the public that include, but are not limited to:
- Reducing dependence on foreign transports to the ISS.
- Currently, the only reliable way for American astronauts to reach the ISS and other destinations in LEO safely is aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle.
- Facilitate more research in space.
- Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will be capable of sending four astronauts to the ISS (1 more than the current Soyuz alternative) thus increasing the possible number of crew spaces on the ISS and the total number of on-station work hours from 40 to 80 hours per week.
- Commercial crew compliments the extension of the ISS lifetime by providing more opportunities for many commercial companies to develop and test their products in space, with the help of NASA astronauts. Research conducted on the ISS will benefit many industries from manufacturing to health and medicine.
- Job Creation
- In April 2010, The Tauri Group, an independent, analytic consulting firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, revealed that the newNASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program funding in the President’s FY2011 Budget Request would result in an average of 11,800 direct jobs per year over the next five years, nationwide. The Tauri Group study was commissioned by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation for an objective estimate of jobs resulting from NASA’s proposed spending of $5.8 billion on Commercial Crew and an additional $312 million on Commercial Cargo from FY2011 to FY2015.
- Increased access to space
3. Links to Latest Updates
4. Extra Reading
- Source Selection Statement from William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
- Statement from former CSF President Bretton Alexander before the House Science Committee on Spaceflight Safety (Dec 2009).
- NASA investment in a Commercial Crew Program was endorsed in October 2009 by the final report of the Augustine Committee (the White House Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee) led by aerospace executive Norm Augustine and included astronauts, scientists, and other industry experts.