Atlas V Completes Milestone Toward Human Spaceflight Certification

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V has successfully completed the second milestone toward one day being approved to launch astronauts. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

Aerospace firm United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that it has met one of the milestones required to have the Atlas V launch vehicle approved to send astronauts to orbit. On Nov. 22, 2011 ULA issued a press release stating that it had successfully completed the Design Equivalency Review or DER. 

ULA has entered into an Unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA to develop the Atlas V for use in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. This marks the second performance milestone that the company has met. Given that three of the four CCDev partners have selected the Atlas V as the rocket that they want to send their spacecraft to orbit – ULA’s completion of this second milestone bodes well for the program overall. 


Video courtesy of United Launch Alliance

What essentially the DER did was to review the Atlas V overall and see how well it met NASA’s stringent human-rating standards. The review took place over the course of several months. The launch vehicle is viewed by some as being ahead of the game as it already is regularly used to launch a wide variety of payloads – including the high-profile launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity.

This version of the Atlas system has had 27 successful missions to date – providing a wealth of data that can be reviewed to determine if the Atlas V could support crewed operations. 

The Atlas V launch vehicle has been used by both NASA as well as the U.S. Air Force to launch a variety of payloads. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

Of the four participants in the second phase of the CCDev program, three have selected the Atlas V to launch their spacecraft. The Boeing Company, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin have all chosen the Atlas launch vehicle. The fourth CCDev2 participant, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), has opted to utilize their Falcon 9 rocket to launch the private space firm’s Dragon spacecraft. 

“With 27 consecutive successes – 98 for the Atlas program as a whole – Atlas V provides the highest confidence, lowest risk solution for human spaceflight,” said ULA’s Vice President of Business Development and Advanced Programs George Sowers. 


Video courtesy of United Launch Alliance

CCDev was put in place to stimulate private space companies to develop vehicles that will provide access to low-Earth-orbit as NASA works to turn its efforts back to the business of space exploration. The CCDev program was established in 2006, the office responsible for this project at NASA is the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO).

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