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The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is a modular multi-purpose space transport system that maybe used to carry crews to the International Space Station, the Moon, Mars and beyond. It is NASA's next-generation human space transportation system. It may replace the Space Shuttle. The CEV Crew Exploration Vehicle is an essential part of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. The CEV will carry between 4 to 6 astronauts.

The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be developed in stages (spirals):

Spiral 1:  To development a vehicle to carry crews to and from low Earth orbit by 2014 aka the International Space Station.

Spiral 2: Covers human moon exploration missions by 2015 or 2020.

Spiral 3: Long Duration Lunar Exploration by 2020. Then to Mars and beyond at a later date.


On January 14 2004, President Bush announced his bold 'New Vision for Space Exploration':

  • Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond.
  • Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon as early as 2015, no later than 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations.
  • Return the Space Shuttle to flight but retire it by 2010.
  • Develop a shuttle replacement by 2008 for manned exploration by 2014.
  • Finish US work on the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010.
  • Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures to support decisions about the destinations for human space exploration.
  • Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.

Please note: cheap access to space was not mentioned in President Bush's vision.

The Orbital Space Plane and Next Generation Launch Technology programs were cancelled as a result of NASA's new Space Exploration Vision.

* In 2004 many CEV ideas were proposed using the EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles - the Boeing Delta IV or the Lockheed Martin Atlas V) to launch the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

* NASA awarded 8 study contracts for concept studies

On September 2004, NASA awarded study contracts to 8 aerospace companies:
1. Andrews Space Technology Inc
2. Boeing Company
3. Draper Laboratories
4. Lockheed Martin
5. Northrop Grumman
6. Orbital Sciences Corporation
7. Schafer Corporation
8. Transformational

* NASA Administrator - Sean O'Keefe resigns

The 10th NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe resigned on Monday 13th December 2004 to pursue a job as chancellor at Louisiana State University.

* Boeing and Northrop Grumman Team Up

On November 9 2004 Northrop Grumman and Boeing announced they would merge their CEV efforts. Under the agreement Northrop would serve as the prime contractor during the first stage of development (Spiral 1) and Boeing as the main subcontractor for the CEV design. In Spiral 2 (Stage 2) Boeing would be the prime contractor and Northrop Grumman as the subcontractor. In January 2005, Boeing and Northrop Grumman signed a formal agreement in teaming together.

* Lockheed Martin announced team of industry companies

On 31 January 2005 Lockheed Martin announced a team of companies had joined it in the competition to design and build the Crew Exploration Vehicle. Lockheed Martin would be the prime contractor. The team included:

- United Space Alliance: currently manages the Space Shuttle
- EADS Space Transportation
- Honeywell: provides Integrated systems Health Management (ISHM) technology
- Hamilton Sunstrand - expertise in the design, manufacture and servicing of Space Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) with technical experience in every major NASA human space program.

Also on January 31, 2005 Orbital Sciences Corporation announced that it has joined a Lockheed Martin led team.

* Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Crew Exploration Vehicle

On 1st March 2005, NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). The contract to build the CEV was a full and open competition. The CEV acquisition used a phased approach that anticipated a maximum of two contractors. The two contracts would be a Cost-Plus-Award-Fee. As part of the Phase 1 contract, the contractors would conduct a demonstration flight that provided risk reduction for the human-rated CEV to be delivered in 2014. The Phase 1 portion of the contract was to end with a planned down select to a single prime contractor in late 2008.The CEV proposals were due no later than 2 p.m. EST, May 2, 2005 and a selection was to be made in September, 2005.

* New NASA Administrator - Michael Griffin

On 14th March 2005, the 11th NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate on April 13. In his address, Griffin said he would focus on getting the shuttles ready to return to flight, and continue to fulfil the Vision for Space Exploration.

Michael Griffin during his confirmation speech said that 2014 was too long to wait for the manned flight of the Crew Exploration Vehicle given that the Shuttle must be retired by 2010. A single contractor might be chosen by the end of 2005 instead of 2008 with the CEV to fly as early as 2010.

* Exploration Systems Architecture Study

On May 6 2005, NASA started a review of the Crew Exploration Vehicle architecture to determine ways to minimize the gap between an operational CEV and retirement of the Shuttle in 2010. This assessment was a part of the "Exploration Systems Architecture Study", which was chartered by the NASA Administrator on April 29, 2005. The results of this analysis were anticipated by mid-July 2005.

The Exploration Systems Architecture Study took place concurrent with the evaluation of offer of proposals received May 2, 2005 in response to NASA CEV Request for Proposal (RFP) issued March 1, 2005 by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

* Two Contracts: Lockheed Martin Corporation and Northrop Grumman / Boeing

On 13 June 2005 NASA announced the selection of Lockheed Martin Corporation and the team of Northrop Grumman / Boeing as the two contractors to compete in the design and production process for the Space Shuttle's replacement. Eventually one contractor would be selected to build the NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle.

The CEV acquisition strategy is a multi-phased project. Phase 1 called for industry to mature their crewed vehicle designs and demonstrate their ability to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of human-rated spacecraft development.

Phase 2, covering final CEV design and production, was scheduled to start with a down-selection to a single industry team in 2008. To reduce or eliminate the gap between the Shuttle's retirement in 2010 and an operational CEV, the Phase 2 down-selection is planned for 2006.

Results of the Exploration Systems Architectural Study will be incorporated into a 'Call For Improvements' later in 2005. Final selection of a single CEV contractor will be evaluated from the proposals from the two contractors.

* T/Space Drop Tests New Booster Design

On 14 June 2005 Transformational Space Corporation successfully completed its third test of its 1/5th scale mock-up of its new booster design. The mock-up was flown aloft by Scaled Composite's Proteus aircraft and then dropped. Previous drops were on May 24 and June 7.

* NASA Awards Crew Exploration Vehicle Contracts

On 12 July 2005, NASA authorized two 8 month contracts to Lockheed Martin Corporation and to the Northrop Grumman / Boeing team. Each contract is worth approximately $28 million.

During this contract period they will develop designs for human space flight and demonstrate an ability to manage costs, schedules and risks. In July 2006 a review of the engineering systems for the NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle might take place.

Originally, the selection of a single industry team was planned for 2008, but to reduce or eliminate the time between the Shuttle's retirement in 2010 and the first CEV flight, the selection is planned for 2006.The Crew Exploration Vehicle is expected to carry up to six astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit soon after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010, and then on to the moon as early as 2015.

Did you know?

What is Project Constellation?

Project Constellation is the project to develop and test the Crew Exploration Vehicle and implement NASA's Vision for Space Exploration. Constellation Systems is responsible for developing the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and related exploration architecture systems.

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV)

The Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) would be a modified Shuttle stack excluding the orbiter. It could be used as the cargo delivery system. The advantages of a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle is that the shuttle's launch infrastructure is in place and contractors are in place.

In 2005 the largest USA rockets could carry about 20t into orbit. A journey to the Moon would require 100t of payload to be placed in low Earth orbit. A moon mission would consist of up to 20t for the CEV and the rest would be made of the mission module, trans-lunar rocket engines and the lunar surface access module. Using the Boeing Delta IV or Atlas V to launch a Moon Mission would require at least require five launches.

If the SDLV can carry at least 100t to orbit, then it could achieve the moon missions with two launches: one for the CEV and the second launch for the Earth Departure Stage and other spacecraft. No decision has been made on developing a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle.

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Copyright 2000-2014 Vic Stathopoulos. All rights reserved.

Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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