Boeing has selected the Atlas V to launch the manned CST-100 capsule into orbit.
The Atlas V, built by United Launch Alliance (ULA), was chosen by Boeing as the selected launch vehicle for four test flights of the Boeing CST-100 capsule for NASA's commercial crew development (CCDev) program. The first flight, which will be unmanned, is scheduled for the first quarter of 2015; subsequent flights will be manned.
The launches will use the Atlas V - 412 model, with a solid-fuel rocket booster attached to the liquid-fuel Common Core Booster (CCB) lower stage, centred around an Energomash RL-180, and a Centaur upper stage containing two Energomash RL-10 liquid-fuel rockets.
ULA beat two other competitors for the contract: ATK with the as-yet-unbuilt Liberty and SpaceX with the Falcon 9.
ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build, market and launch payloads into orbit. The tight ties between Boeing and ULA necessitated a review by the Federal Trade Commission, a US government agency charged with ensuring fair competition. FTC cleared the Boeing-ULA deal on July 25, according to Boeing.
Both ULA and Boeing hope to use the respective work required to mate the vehicles will translate easily to other craft. "This current procurement was done just for the test flights," said John Elbon, Boeing CCDev program manager. "As the process evolves here and we get closer to the operational flights, we'll have a subsequent examination for those flights"
Boeing is the third CCDev participant to select the Atlas V as a launch platform. The other companies that have chosen the Atlas are Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada.
Boeing maintains that the CST-100 program is dependent on NASA funding for both testing and eventual operations; it has won milestone-based contracts for $110m to date in two rounds of CCDev awards. Bitter budgetary squabbles in Washington and imminent cuts to NASA's budget put the third round of CCDev contracts, scheduled for 2012, in jeopardy.
The Atlas V has launched 27 times, with one partial failure due to early upper stage cutoff, according to Ascend Spacetrak. A 28th Atlas is scheduled for 5 August.
Source: Flight International