With the cargo version of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft waiting patiently at Cape Canaveral for its scheduled launch on May 19, its astronaut-carrying sibling received a thumbs up from NASA.
“This milestone demonstrated the layout of the crew cabin supports critical tasks,” said SpaceX Commercial Crew Development Manager – and former astronaut – Garrett Reisman. “It also demonstrated the Dragon interior has been designed to maximize the ability of the seven-member crew to do their job as effectively as possible.”
The latest step for the manned Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX centered around the size and layout inside the capsule. The seven seat vehicle was deemed acceptable after NASA astronauts and engineers evaluated the Dragon, including entering and exiting under normal and emergency scenarios, as well as reach and visibility tests.
SpaceX’s achievement was reached as concerns at NASA grow regarding lawmakers efforts to stop the NASA sponsored competition to develop a replacement for the space shuttle program.
The evaluation is part of the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev). The prototype of the Dragon had a functioning interior including seats, lights and life support systems as well as cargo racks and controls.
SpaceX is working closely with NASA on the development of the Dragon, something reflected in comments from the agency’s commercial crew program manager Ed Mango, “as an anchor customer for commercial transportation services, we are happy to provide SpaceX with knowledge and lessons learned from our 50 years of human spaceflight.”
Mango was one of the NASA managers who spoke out last week regarding the future of the CCDev program and its cargo equivalent, the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS). Both programs include multiple private companies receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in development funding from NASA to design, build and test spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to low earth orbit.
The goal of the competition has been to reduce the cost of delivering supplies and people to the International Space Station. With the retirement of the space shuttle orbiters, NASA currently pays more than $60 million a seat to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket.
The current plan calls for NASA to continue the competition between several different private companies, each receiving between $300 million and $500 million during the next phase. SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences are the two remaining companies working on the COTS cargo program, and SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and Boeing are currently funded through the CCDev program.
A budget bill currently working its way through the House of Representatives would direct NASA to instead immediately choose a single commercial provider for the CCDev program while reducing the overall funding level according to Spaceflightnow.com.
Mango said going with a single company now dramatically increase the cost of the program in the long run.
“We need competition as long as possible. The price to go with one starting today, and then all the way through certification and into services, is at least twice what it would be if you had competition at least as long as possible,” Mango told a NASA committee last week.
Other NASA officials emphasized the need for continued competition saying it has already fostered innovative new approaches for space travel.
SpaceX’s next CCDev milestones for the Dragon include the further development of its pusher launch abort system. Compared with the traditional “tractor” type launch abort system that uses a small rocket to pull the crew to safety in the event of a launch or ascent emergency, SpaceX’s unique approach is to use the small rockets built into the Dragon for orbital maneuvering to push the vehicle clear of the rocket in an emergency. Assuming no emergency occurs, these rocket engines can also be used for a controlled, pinpoint landing in the future.
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/