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NASA, ULA sign Space Act Agreement for human spaceflight


A file photo of Atlas V rocket. Photo: ULA.

DENVER, COLORADO (BNS): NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) to assess the Atlas V commercial rocket for sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin designed to provide cost-efficient rockets to send US government missions into space.

Through the agreement, NASA will collect technical information from ULA on the Atlas V to develop an understanding of system capability for human spaceflight.

The Atlas V is a flight-proven expendable launch vehicle. The vehicle is at present used by NASA and the Department of Defense for critical space missions.

The agreement was unveiled as the shuttle Atlantis prepares to return to earth Thursday from the ISS, its final voyage after three decades of space shuttle flights.

"I am truly excited about the addition of ULA to NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program team. 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," NASA administrator Charles Bolden, was quoted as saying in ULA press statement.

NASA will be providing feedback to ULA based on its human spaceflight experience for advancing Crew Transportation System (CTS) capabilities and also the draft human certification requirements.

On the other hand, ULA will provide NASA feedback on those requirements, including providing input on the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of NASA's proposed certification approach.

"This unfunded SAA will look at the Atlas V to understand its design risks, its capabilities, how it can be used within the context of flying our NASA crew and maturing ULA's designs for the Emergency Detection System (EDS) and launch vehicle processing and launch architectures under a crewed configuration," said Ed Mango, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager in a statement.

The majority of the work will be completed by the end of this year.

Several companies competing to partner with NASA to develop spacecraft - like Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Blue Origin - have already chosen the Atlas V to launch future commercial payloads.

Others, like Boeing, are seriously considering this option, while companies like SpaceX are developing their own rocket.

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