NASA ditches CRV to focus on reusable launch vehicles

New NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe has killed plans to develop a crew return vehicle (CRV), or lifeboat, for the International Space Station (ISS). Instead, the agency is moving rapidly to draw up requirements for a reusable spaceplane that would carry crew to and from the ISS.

"The administrator has told us the CRV as we know it is finished," Art Stephenson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics symposium on future reusable launch vehicles (RLVs) in Huntsville, Alabama, on 11-12 April.

Contractor teams are working on funded one-month studies to define the requirements for a combined crew return and crew transfer vehicle. The European Space Agency, using its own funds, will also submit a study to NASA, drawing on its experience with the cancelled Hermes spaceplane.

The new vehicle would be part of NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) to develop a second-generation RLV to replace the Space Shuttle. NASA's requirement is to carry three crew to and from the ISS four times a year, says second-generation RLV programme manager Dennis Smith.

Requirements definition must be complete by the end of May if NASA is to include the crew-return/crew-transfer vehicle in the second-generation RLV system requirements review planned for November, says Smith.

The $5 billion SLI programme is intended to develop technology for two competitive architectures by 2006, when NASA plans to take a decision on whether to continue operating the Shuttle or replace it with one of the two second-generation systems.

Stephenson says plans call for cargo operations with the second-generation RLV to begin in 2010-12, with crewed operations to follow in 2012-14. With the death of the CRV, Stephenson says, NASA will look at adding a second Soyuz rescue capsule to the ISS, or providing the crew with an in-orbit "safe haven" until the Shuttle can be launched, as ways of increasing the crew from the current three to the originally planned six.

Source: Flight International