ULA Inks Deal With NASA To Study Man-Rating Atlas V

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CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. — NASA is looking for a few good rockets – that’s right, plural. While it continues to review the Space Launch System or SLS – it has inked a non-funded agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to utilize the Denver-based firm’s Atlas V rockets to send astronauts into orbit. The announcement was made at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday.

The Space Act Agreement signed by the space agency and ULA will see critical information regarding the flight characteristics of the Atlas V be provided to NASA. ULA will not be alone in providing information however; NASA will give ULA vital data regarding its experience sending humans into orbit as well as guidance as how to adapt the Atlas V for human space flight purposes. NASA will help ULA with both the crew transportation system capabilities as well as the human certification requirements.

This will begin a process where ULA and NASA will work closely with one another to guide the Atlas V toward being man-rated. Before that can happen there are numerous pertinent issues that have to be reviewed first, such as the cost involved and other issues involved with the certification process.

United Launch Alliance will spend its own funds to research how to send astronauts into space via the Atlas V. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

The Atlas V is an expendable launch vehicle that has not only been used by NASA, but the Department of Defense (DoD) as well. The Atlas’ proven track record should allow a large portion of the study to be completed before the end of this year.

NASA’s part of the arrangement includes providing milestone briefings and technical reviews to check and see how the project is progressing as well as identifying risks and attempting to mitigate them.

ULA meanwhile will use its own funds to pay for the Crew Transportation System (CTS). Design maturation, required analyses (including hazard reviews that are unique to human space flight efforts) as well as establishing a man-rated baseline for the Atlas V all will be handled by United Launch Alliance.

The rationale behind why the Atlas V was specifically selected is simple, both Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin’s proposals under the Commercial Crew Development – 02 (CCDev-02) contract – utilize the Atlas V. Bigelow Aerospace has also looked at the rocket as a launch service provider.

As seen in this illustration, Sierra Nevada Corporation has intimated that the Atlas V is the launch vehicle of choice for their Dream Chaser space plane. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada

“I am truly excited about the addition of ULA to NASA’s Commercial Crew development Program team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Having ULA on board may speed the development of a commercial crew transportation system for the International Space Station, allowing NASA to concentrate its resources on exploring beyond low
Earth orbit.”

The Atlas V has had 26 consecutive successful flights, making it an easily one of the front runners to potentially send astronauts to orbit.

“We believe this effort will demonstrate to NASA that our systems are fully compliant with NASA requirements for human spaceflight,” said George Sowers, ULA’s vice president of business development. “ULA looks forward to continued work with NASA to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability providing safe,
reliable, and cost effective access to and return from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station.”

The Atlas V has had 26 consecutive successful flights and is now being viewed as a launch provider for crewed missions. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com
Jason Rhian

Jason has degrees in journalism and public relations. He has covered over 30 launches as well as other space-related events – including flying with Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the final shuttle mission, the president's visit to KSC and from Utah during the test of the five-segment DM-2 booster.

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