Skip to Content

Private Space Industry Works to Replace the Shuttle

With the shuttle’s final mission next week, the private sector has some work to do.

NASA has released the first edition of its new bi-monthy newsletter that focuses on “happenings” in the agency’s commercial spaceflight development program. The first newsletter is devoted to the progress made in the commercial crew development program, which recently awarded four companies money to develop spacecraft that can carry astronauts to space. The progress made by these companies–SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Sierra Nevada Corporation–is small. But with the space shuttle’s final mission scheduled for July 8, the pressure is on for these companies to work quickly and efficiently to meet their goals.

“The space shuttle’s retirement gives commercial companies more incentive to push the development of their systems,” says Craig Steidle, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “They are excited about what’s coming up, but the pressure is getting financial support, to make sure we have the money to allow them to do spaceflight demonstrations.”

Steidle is optimistic that the commercial companies working on human spaceflight will meet their goals, and we will see the first astronaut launch to space on a commercial spacecraft in 2017.

Here’s a round up of what these companies are up to:

Boeing is developing the CST-100 spacecraft, and perhaps achieved the greatest milestone for its spacecraft thus far by completing its delta Systems Definition Review–an analysis of the design and requirements of the spacecraft and its subsystems, including structures, thermal, electrical, propulsion, life support, software and avionics. According to the company’s press release,

The Delta SDR enables a common understanding of the design baseline as the team progresses toward a system-level Preliminary Design Review (PDR), which will further mature the system design and ensure it meets all requirements. Under the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement, Boeing expects to complete its System PDR no later than early spring 2012.

Boeing is preparing to gather performance data on the spacecraft’s launch abort system and service module fuel tank; evaluate vehicle ascent performance in wind tunnel testing; and build on earlier landing air bag and parachute demonstrations with more in-depth investigations.

In June Boeing will present a plan for identifying and mitigating potential spaceflight safety hazards for the spacecraft.

SpaceX meanwhile is developing the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft, which are both test flight proven. With the new funding the company is focusing on the development of a launch abort system and improving the design of the crew systems. SpaceX completed its initial milestone, a kickoff meeting with NASA officials to review requirements and present design status updates. In July, the company will have to present data, documentation, and risk assessments to show that the launch abort system concept is technically sound.

Sierra Nevada Corporation is building the Dream Chaser, a reusable piloted spacecraft that will be launched on an Atlas V rocket. It also had initial kickoff meeting and Systems Requirement Review and will present test results on the aerodynamic and thermal performance of the airfoil for the Dream Chaser’s tip fins.

Blue Origin’s crew transportation system will be a reusable biconic space vehicle that has been launched on an Atlas V rocket and then on the company’s own reusable booster system. After initial meetings the company improved the overall space vehicle design. The next step will be ground and flight tests of its pusher escape system for astronauts, and accelerating the engine design for the reusable booster system.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.