CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Both Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and The Boeing Company have tasked United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch their commercial spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
ULA, who operates SLC-41, was tasked with outfitting the launch pad with equipment and systems to support crewed launches within the next five years.
Formed in 2006, ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed-Martin and The Boeing Company. They use expendable launch vehicles such as the Atlas V and Delta IV to launch payloads for not just NASA, but the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office as well.
ULA’s Atlas V family of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, has achieved 100 percent mission success since their debut in August 2002. Two commercial space firms have selected the Atlas V as the rocket of choice to launch their human-rated spacecraft. They are The Boeing Co.’s CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser.
The current focus of SNC’s commercial efforts is the Dream Chaser Space System, a winged, piloted orbital commercial spacecraft.
With the goal of getting to the International Space Station, SNC is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo office (known as C3PO) to develop the Dream Chaser to be able to transport up to seven crew members and cargo to the International Space Station and back to Earth again.
Based on NASA’s HL-20 design, the Dream Chaser won two NASA Commercial Crew Development awards totaling $100 million.
Another company to provide commercial crew transportation services is The Boeing Co. Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company. Boeing Defense, Space and Security division handles the creation of most space-based platforms.
Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation CST-100 spacecraft is a capsule-based design that can also carry seven astronauts. It is being designed under an $18 million Commercial crew Development Space Act Agreement with NASA. Like the Dream Chaser, its purpose is to support the International Space Station, but Boeing’s offering has also been selected by the Bigelow Aerospace to support the private space firm’s inflatable space habitats. The CST-100 would be able to launch on a several rockets, including the selected Atlas V.
SLC- 41 is being modified to accommodate the two different spacecraft by ULA and the recently selected Hensel Phelps Construction Company of Orlando, Fla. They are outfitting SLC-41 with equipment and systems to support the crewed launches within the next five years.
This includes designing and developing the tower and crew access arm to allow boarding onto both vehicles.A third commercial firm, Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, will be launching on their own rocket – the Falcon 9. SpaceX has already traveled to the ISS twice. This makes SpaceX the current leader in the commercial race for space.
With the space shuttle program decommissioned, NASA, in partnership with the private sector, is working to follow the words of Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, at the National Press Club on July 1, 2011 with ongoing efforts to make “American leadership in space” continue.