(Sen) - NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have been reviewing changes that will be needed to prepare the company's Atlas V rocket for human spaceflight.
Atlas V has a successful history of launching satellites and robotic spacecraft including missions for NASA. Last year it sent the Juno probe on its way to Jupiter and launched the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft which is due to arrive at Mars shortly. But the rocket is being designed to carry humans into space - and must therefore meet with more stringent safety standards than those required for unmanned launches. To assess the required modifications, engineers from ULA have been working closely with NASA technical experts and commercial crew partners, such as Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
Dr George Sowers, ULA's VP for human launch services, explained: "The systems requirements review was the result of an extensive effort with NASA and our commercial spacecraft partners to determine what capabilities the Atlas V already meets and to define what we need to do from here to certify the rocket for human spaceflight. We continue to receive valuable insight from NASA's human spaceflight experts as we move toward the certification of Atlas V for human spaceflight."
Following the review, ULA will proceed to detailed design and development to make the Atlas V ready to carry people.
The key modifications needed to meet NASA's Human Spaceflight Certification include the upper stage rocket needing two engines rather than the single engine currently used. The onboard flight computers will also need to be programmed to provider greater control of the flightpath into orbit. Sensors will be added to the rocket to detect emergency situations for the crew and the launch pad will be modified to allow crew to board the spacecraft.
Ed Mango, the Commercial Crew Program manager, commenting on the review, said: "Our partnership with ULA during this round of development has really been focused on understanding the core design of the launch vehicle. In these reviews we were able to see how ULA plans to modify the vehicle for human spaceflight."
ULA is one of several companies working with NASA to develop crew transportation under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) Program. ULA has an unfunded Space Act Agreement which sees the company and NASA share knowledge and technical expertise.
Boeing's Crew Space Transportation CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - which are also being developed with assistance from NASA's CCDev2 Prgoram - will be launched atop the Atlas V rocket (see artist's illustration, left). Blue Origin's space vehicle may also be launched by the Atlas V.
Whilst NASA is looking to business to provide crew and cargo services to Low Earth Orbit and the International Space Station, the space agency is developing its own spacecraft, Orion, for deep space missions. Orion would launch atop of NASA's next big rocket, Space Launch System.
ULA, formed in 2006, is a 50:50 joint venture between aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company.