NASA Names Four Astronauts for First Boeing, SpaceX U.S. Commercial Spaceflights

NASA today (July 9) named the first four astronauts who will fly on the first U.S. commercial spaceflights in private crew transportation vehicles being built by Boeing and SpaceX – marking a major milestone towards restoring American human launches to U.S. soil as soon as mid-2017, if all goes well.

The four astronauts chosen are all veterans of flights on NASA’s Space Shuttles and to the International Space Station (ISS); Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams. They now form the core of NASA’s commercial crew astronaut corps eligible for the maiden test flights on board the Boeing CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut capsules.

Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each launched on two shuttle missions and Williams is a veteran of two long-duration flights aboard the ISS after launching on both the shuttle and Soyuz. All four served as military test pilots prior to being selected as NASA astronauts.

The experienced quartet of space flyers will work closely with Boeing and SpaceX as they begin training and prepare to launch aboard the first ever commercial ‘space taxi’ ferry flight missions to the ISS and back – that will also end our sole source reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule for crewed missions to low-Earth orbit and further serve to open up space exploration and transportation services to the private sector.

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in September 2014 worth $6.8 Billion to complete the development and manufacture of the privately developed CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut transporters under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The selection of astronauts for rides with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) comes almost exactly four years to the day since the last American manned space launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission to the space station on July 8, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hurley was a member of the STS-135 crew and served as shuttle pilot under NASA’s last shuttle commander, Chris Ferguson, who is now Director of Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew program. Read my earlier exclusive interviews with Ferguson about the CST-100 – here and here.

Since the retirement of the shuttle orbiters, all American and ISS partner astronauts have been forced to hitch a ride on the Soyuz for flights to the ISS and back, at a current cost of over $70 million per seat.

“Our plans to return launches to American soil make fiscal sense,” Bolden elaborated. “It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut.

Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams are all eager to work with the Boeing and SpaceX teams to “understand their designs and operations as they finalize their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies in support of their crewed flight tests and certification activities as part of their contracts with NASA.”

Until June 2015, Williams held the record for longest time in space by a woman, accumulating 322 days in orbit. Behnken is currently the chief of the astronaut core and conducted six space walks at the station. Boe has spent over 28 days in space and flew on the final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery in Feb. 2011 on STS-133.

The first commercial crew flights under the CCtCAP contract could take place in 2017 with at least one member of the two person crews being a NASA astronaut – who will be “on board to verify the fully-integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all systems perform as expected, and land safely,” according to a NASA statement.

The second crew member could be a company test pilot as the details remain to be worked out.

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA
Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

The actual launch date depends on the NASA budget allocation for the Commercial Crew Program approved by the US Congress.

Congress has never approved NASA’s full funding request for the CCP program and has again cut the program significantly in initial votes this year. So the outlook for a 2017 launch is very uncertain.

Were it not for the drastic CCP cuts we would be launching astronauts this year on the space taxis.

“Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy,” Bolden emphasizes about the multifaceted benefits of the commercial crew initiative.

Under the CCtCAP contract, NASA recently ordered the agency’s first commercial crew mission from Boeing – as outlined in my story here. SpaceX will receive a similar CCtCAP mission order later this year.

At a later date, NASA will decide whether Boeing or SpaceX will launch the actual first commercial crew test flight mission to low Earth orbit.

Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement.

“These four individuals, like so many at NASA and the Flight Operations Directorate, have dedicated their careers to becoming experts in the field of aeronautics and furthering human space exploration. The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions.”

Both the CST-100 and Crew Dragon will typically carry a crew of four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members, along with some 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. Each will also be capable of carrying up to seven crew members depending on how the capsule is configured.

The spacecraft will be capable to remaining docked at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

The NASA CCtCAP contracts call for a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions from each provider.

The station crew will also be enlarged to seven people that will enable a doubling of research time.
The CST-100 will be carried to low Earth orbit atop a man-rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It enjoys a 100% success rate.

Boeing will first conduct a pair of unmanned and manned orbital CST-100 test flights earlier in 2017 in April and July, prior to the operational commercial crew rotation mission to confirm that their capsule is ready and able and met all certification milestone requirements set by NASA.

The Crew Dragon will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It enjoyed a 100% success rate until last weeks launch on its 19th flight which ended with an explosion two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral on June 28, 2015.

Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch  from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX conducted a successful Pad Abort Test of the Crew Dragon on May 6, as I reported here. The goal was to test the spacecrafts abort systems that will save astronauts lives in a split second in the case of a launch emergency such as occurred during the June 28 rocket failure in flight that was bound for the ISS with the initial cargo version of the SpaceX Dragon.

SpaceX plans an unmanned orbital test flight of Crew Dragon perhaps by the end of 2016. The crewed orbital test flight would follow sometime in 2017.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Genesis of ULA’s New Vulcan Rocket Borne of Fierce Commercial and Political Pressures: Interview

Fierce commercial and international political pressures have forced the rapid development of the new Vulcan launcher family recently announced by rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA). Vulcan’s “genesis” and development was borne of multiple unrelenting forces on ULA and is now absolutely essential and critical for its “transformation and survival in a competitive environment” moving forward, according to Dr. George Sowers, ULA Vice President for Advanced Concepts and Technology, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

“To be successful and survive ULA needs to transform to be more of a competitive company in a competitive environment,” Dr. Sowers told Universe Today in a wide ranging interview regarding the rationale and goals of the Vulcan rocket.

Vulcan is ULA’s next generation rocket to space and slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.

Faced with the combined challenges of a completely changed business and political environment emanating powerfully from new space upstart SpaceX offering significantly reduced launch costs, and continuing uncertainty over the future supply of the Russian-made RD-180 workhorse rocket engines that power ULA’s venerable Atlas V rocket, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Sowers and ULA’s new CEO Tory Bruno were tasked with rapidly resolving these twin threats to the firms future well being – which also significantly impacts directly on America’s national security.

“Our current plan is to have the new Vulcan rocket flying by 2019,” Sowers stated.

Whereas ULA enjoyed a virtual US launch monopoly for many years, those days are now history thanks to SpaceX.

Vulcan - United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019.  Credit: ULA
Vulcan – United Launch Alliance (ULA) next generation rocket is set to make its debut flight in 2019. Credit: ULA

The Vulcan launcher was created in response to the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and it will combine the best features of ULA’s existing unmanned Atlas V and Delta IV booster product lines as well as being revamped with new and innovative American-made first stage engines that will eventually be reusable.

It will meet and exceed the capabilities of ULA’s current stable of launchers, including the Delta IV Heavy which recently launched NASA’s maiden Orion crew module on an unmanned test flight in Dec. 2014.

“We at ULA were faced with how do we take our existing products and transform them into a single fleet that enables us to do the entire range of missions on just one family of rockets.”

“So that was really the genesis of what we now call the “Vulcan” rocket. So this single family will be able to do everything [from medium to heavy lift],” Sowers told me.

Another requirement is that Vulcan’s manufacturing methodology be extremely efficient, slashing costs to make it cost competitive with the Space X Falcon 9. Sowers said the launcher would sell “for less than $100 million” at the base level.

“Vulcan will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market. It will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” says ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

In its initial configuration Vulcan’s first stage will be powered by a revolutionary new class of cost effective and wholly domestic engines dubbed the BE-4, produced by Blue Origin.

It can be augmented by up to six solid rocket boosters, to propel high value payloads on missions ranging from low Earth orbit to interplanetary destinations for NASA, private industry and vital US national security interests.

Vulcan will also blast off with astronaut crews aboard the Boeing CST-100 space taxi bound for the International Space Station (ISS) in the early 2020s.

Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA
Cutaway diagram of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket powered by BE-4 first stage engines, six solid rocket motors and a 5 meter diameter payload fairing. Credit ULA

Further upgrades including a powerful new upper stage called ACES, will be phased in down the road as launches of ULA’s existing rocket families wind down, to alleviate any schedule slips.

“Because rocket design is hard and the rocket business is tough we are planning an overlap period between our existing rockets and the new Vulcan rocket,” Sowers explained. “That will account for any delays in development and other issues in the transition process to the new rocket.”

ULA was formed in 2006 as a 50:50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that combined their existing expendable rocket fleet families – the Atlas V and Delta IV – under one roof.

Development of the two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV’s) was originally funded by the U.S. Air Force to provide two independent and complimentary launch capabilities thereby offering assured access to space for America’s most critical military reconnaissance satellites gathering intelligence for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), DOD and the most senior US military and government leaders.

Since 2006, SpaceX (founded by billionaire Elon Musk) has emerged on the space scene as a potent rival offering significantly lower cost launches compared to ULA and other launch providers in the US and overseas – and captured a significant and growing share of the international launch market for its American-made Falcon rocket family.

And last year to top that all off, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and defense industries, threatened to “ban Washington from using Russian-made [RD-180] rocket engines [used in the Atlas V rocket], which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket first stage is powered by Russian-made RD-180 engines.
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, March 12, 2015, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“ULA was formed eight years ago as a government regulated monopoly focused on US government launches. Now eight years later the environment is changing,” Sowers told me.

How did ULA respond to the commercial and political challenges and transform?

“So there are a lot of things we had to do structurally to make that transformation. One of the key ones is that when ULA was formed, the government was very concerned about having assured access to space for national security launches,” Sowers explained.

“In their mind that meant having two independent rocket systems that could essentially do the same jobs. So we have both the Atlas V and the Delta IV. But in a competitive environment you can well imagine that that requirement drives your costs significantly higher than they need to be.”

ULA actually offered three rocket families after the merger, when only one was really needed.

“So our first conclusion on how to be competitive was how do we go from supporting three rocket families – including the Delta II – off of 6 launch pads, to our ultimate aim of getting down to just 1 rocket family of off just 2 pads – one on each coast. So, that is the most cost effective structure that we could come up with and the most competitive.”

Developing a new first stage engine not subject to international tensions was another primary impetus.

“The other big objective that was always in our minds, but that became much higher priority in April 2014 when Russia decided to annex Crimea, is that the RD-180 rocket engine that became our workhorse on Atlas, now became politically untenable.”

“So the other main objective of Vulcan is to re-engine [the first stage of] our fleet with an American engine, the Blue Origin BE-4.”

The RD-180’s will be replaced with a pair of BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, the highly secretive aerospace firm founded by Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon. The revolutionary BE-4 engines are fueled by liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen and will produce about 1.1 million pounds of thrust vs. about 900,000 pounds of thrust for the RD-180, a significant enhancement in thrust.

“The Blue Origin BE-4 is the primary engine [for Vulcan]. ULA is co-investing with Blue Origin in that engine.”

Although the BE-4 is ULA’s primary choice to replace the RD-180, ULA is also investing in development of a backup engine, the AR-1 from Aerojet-Rocketdyne, in case the BE-4 faces unexpected delays.

“As I said, rocket development is hard and risky. So we have a backup plan. That is with Aerojet-Rocketdyne and their AR-1. And we are investing in that engine as well.”

More on the Vulcan, BE-4, reusability and more upcoming in part 2.

ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines.  Credit: ULA
ULA concept for SMART reuse capability for the new Vulcan rocket involves eventual midair recovery and reuse of the first stage engines. Credit: ULA

Meanwhile, the next commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 is due to blastoff this Sunday, June 28, on the Dragon CRS-7 resupply mission to the ISS.

Watch for my onsite reports from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about ULA, SpaceX, Europa, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 25-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA Orders First Ever Commercial Human Spaceflight Mission from Boeing

The restoration of America’s ability to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil in 2017 took a major step forward when NASA ordered the first ever commercial human spaceflight mission from Boeing.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) office gave the first commercial crew rotation mission award to the Boeing Company to launch its CST-100 astronaut crew capsule to the ISS by late 2017, so long as the company satisfactorily meets all of NASA’s human spaceflight certification milestones.

Thus begins the history making new era of commercial human spaceflight.

“This occasion will go in the books of Boeing’s nearly 100 years of aerospace and more than 50 years of space flight history,” said John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division, in a statement.

“We look forward to ushering in a new era in human space exploration.”

Boeing was awarded a $4.2 Billion contract in September 2014 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to complete development and manufacture of the CST-100 ‘space taxi’ under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

“Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the commercial crew and station programs,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions.”

Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry five person crews to the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry four to seven person crews to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The CST-100 will be carried to low Earth orbit atop a manrated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Boeing will first conduct a pair of unmanned and manned orbital CST-100 test flights earlier in 2017 in April and July, prior to the operational commercial crew rotation mission to confirm that their capsule is ready and able and met all certification milestone requirements set by NASA.

“Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to the missions to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. In addition, each company must successfully complete the certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight,” says NASA.

Boeing got the mission order from NASA because they have “successfully demonstrated to NASA that the Commercial Crew Transportation System has reached design maturity appropriate to proceed to assembly, integration and test activities.”

Boeing recently completed the fourth milestone in the CCtCap phase dubbed the delta integrated critical design review.

Read my earlier exclusive, in depth one-on-one interviews with Chris Ferguson – America’s last shuttle commander and who now leads Boeings CST-100 program; here and here.

The commercial crew program is designed to return human spaceflight launches to the United States and end our sole source reliance on Russia and the Soyuz capsule.

ISS Soyuz crew rotation missions are currently on hold due to the recent launch failure of the Russian Soyuz booster and Progress resupply vessel earlier this month.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle orbiters in 2011, US astronauts have been totally dependent on the Russians for trips to space and back.

Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial  CST-100  'Space Taxi' on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

SpaceX also received a NASA award worth $2.6 Billion to build the Crew Dragon spacecraft for launch atop the firms man-rated Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX conducted a successful Pad Abort Test of the Crew Dragon on May 6, fulfilling a key NASA milestone, as I reported here.

NASA will order a commercial mission from SpaceX sometime later this year. At a later date NASA will decide which company will fly the first commercial crew rotation mission to the ISS.

Both the CST-100 and Crew Dragon will typically carry a crew of four or five NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members, along with some 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. Each will also be capable of carrying up to seven crew members depending on how the capsule is configured.

Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The spacecraft will be capable to remaining docked at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

The NASA CCtCAP contracts call for a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions from each provider.

The station crew will also be enlarged to seven people that will enable a doubling of research time.

“Commercial Crew launches are critical to the International Space Station Program because it ensures multiple ways of getting crews to orbit,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist.

“It also will give us crew return capability so we can increase the crew to seven, letting us complete a backlog of hands-on critical research that has been building up due to heavy demand for the National Laboratory.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program initiative aims to restore US access to the ISS. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program initiative aims to restore US access to the ISS. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

SpaceX Prepares for Crucial Crew Dragon Capsule Pad Abort Test

SpaceX is preparing for the first of two critical abort tests for the firm’s next generation human rated Dragon V2 capsule as soon as March.

The purpose of the pair of abort tests is to demonstrate a crew escape capability to save the astronauts’ lives in case of a rocket failure, starting from the launch pad and going all the way to orbit.

The SpaceX Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 vehicles were selected by NASA last fall for further funding under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) as the world’s privately developed spaceships to ferry astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS).

Both SpaceX and Boeing plan to launch the first manned test flights to the ISS with their respective transports in 2017.

During the Sept. 16, 2014, news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that contracts worth a total of $6.8 Billion were awarded to SpaceX to build the manned Dragon V2 and to Boeing to build the manned CST-100.

The first abort test involving the pad abort test is currently slated to take place soon from the company’s launch pad on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, according to Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

“First up is a pad abort in about a month,” said Shotwell during a media briefing last week at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

SpaceX engineers have been building the pad abort test vehicle for the unmanned test for more than a year at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Dragon V2 builds on and significantly upgrades the technology for the initial cargo version of the Dragon which has successfully flown five operational resupply missions to the ISS.

“It took us quite a while to get there, but there’s a lot of great technology and innovations in that pad abort vehicle,” noted Shotwell.

First look at the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s pad abort vehicle set for flight test in March 2014.  Credit: SpaceX.
First look at the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s pad abort vehicle set for flight test in March 2014. Credit: SpaceX.

The pad abort demonstration will test the ability of a set of eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the crew Dragon to pull the vehicle away from the launch pad in a simulated emergency.

The SuperDraco engines are located in four jet packs around the base. Each engine can produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety, according to a SpaceX description.

Here is a SpaceX video of SuperDraco’s being hot fire tested in Texas:

Video caption: Full functionality of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco jetpacks demonstrated with hotfire test in McGregor, TX. Credit: SpaceX

For the purpose of this test, the crew Dragon will sit on top of a facsimile of the unpressurized trunk portion of the Dragon. It will not be loaded on top of a Falcon 9 rocket for the pad abort test.

The second abort test involves a high altitude abort test launching atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“An in-flight abort test [follows] later this year,” said Shotwell.

“The Integrated launch abort system is critically important to us. We think it gives incredible safety features for a full abort all the way through ascent.”

“It does also allow us the ultimate goal of fully propulsive landing.”

Both tests were originally scheduled for 2014 as part of the firm’s prior CCiCAP development phase contract with NASA, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told me in late 2013.

“Assuming all goes well, we expect to conduct [up to] two Dragon abort tests next year in 2014,” Musk explained.

Last year, NASA granted SpaceX an extension into 2015 for both tests under SpaceX’s CCiCAP milestones.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during a prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX Dragon V2 will launch atop a human rated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral.

“We understand the incredible responsibility we’ve been given to carry crew. We should fly over 50 Falcon 9’s before crewed flight,” said Shotwell.

To accomplish the first manned test flight to the ISS by 2017, the US Congress must agree to fully fund the commercial crew program.

“To do this we need for Congress to approve full funding for the Commercial Crew Program,” Bolden said at last week’s JSC media briefing.

Severe budget cuts by Congress forced NASA into a two year delay in the first commercial crew flights to the ISS from 2015 to 2017 – and also forced NASA to pay hundreds of millions of more dollars to the Russians for crews seats aboard their Soyuz instead of employing American aerospace workers.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA
Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX to Launch 1st Commercial Crew Ships to Space Station in 2017

After a hiatus of six long years, US astronauts will finally launch to space in a revolutionary new pair of private crew capsules under development by Boeing and SpaceX, starting in 2017, that will end our sole source reliance on the Russians for launching our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Two years from now, crews will start flying to space aboard the first US commercial spaceships, launching atop US rockets from US soil, said officials from Boeing, SpaceX, and NASA at a joint news conference on Monday, Jan. 26. The human rated spaceships – also known as “space taxis” – are being designed and manufactured under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

A two person mixed crew of NASA astronauts and company test pilots will fly on the first test flights going to the space station in 2017.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, underway since 2010, has been to develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective spaceships that will ferry astronauts to and from the massive orbiting lab complex.

“It’s an incredible testament to American ingenuity and know-how, and an extraordinary validation of the vision we laid out just a few years ago as we prepared for the long-planned retirement of the space shuttle,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden during the briefing at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Bolden is a four time veteran space shuttle astronaut.

“This work is part of a vital strategy to equip our nation with the technologies for the future and inspire a new generation of explorers to take the next giant leap for America.”

NASA's Stephanie Schierholz introduces the panel of Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, seated, left, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, Boeing's John Elbon, SpaceX's Gwynne Shotwell and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke.  Credit:  NASA TV
NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz introduces the panel of Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, seated, left, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, Boeing’s John Elbon, SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell, and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke at Jan. 26 commercial crew new conference. Credit: NASA TV

“We have been working overtime to get Americans back to space from US soil and end US reliance on Russia,” Bolden added. “My job is to ensure we get Americans back to space as soon as possible and safely.”

“We have been in-sourcing space jobs back to the US.”

“To do this we need for Congress to approve full funding for the Commercial Crew Program!”

“This and the ISS are a springboard to going beyond Earth. All this we are doing will enable us to get Humans to Mars!”

However – severe budget cuts by Congress forced NASA into a two year delay in the first commercial crew flights from 2015 to 2017 – and also forced NASA to pay hundreds of millions of more dollars to the Russians for crews seats instead of employing American aerospace workers.

On Sept. 16, 2014, Administrator Bolden announced that Boeing and SpaceX had won the high stakes and history making NASA competition to build the first ever private “space taxis” to launch American and partner astronauts to the ISS and restore America’s capability to launch our crews from American soil for the first time since 2011.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

During the Sept. 16 briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, Bolden announced at that time that contracts worth a total of $6.8 Billion were awarded to Boeing to build the manned CST-100 and to SpaceX to build the manned Dragon V2.

Boeing was awarded the larger share of the crew vehicle contract valued at $4.2 Billion while SpaceX was awarded a lesser amount valued at $2.6 Billion.

For extensive further details about Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule, be sure to read my exclusive 2 part interview with Chris Ferguson, NASA’s final shuttle commander and now Boeing’s Commercial Crew Director: here and here.

And read about my visit to the full scale CST-100 mockup at its manufacturing facility at KSC – here and here.

B8SsB9UCQAElkbJ.jpg large

But the awards were briefly put on hold when the third bidder, Sierra Nevada Corp, protested the decision and thereby prevented NASA from discussing the awards until the issue was resolved by the General Accounting Office (GAO) earlier this month in favor of NASA.

Everyone involved is now free to speak about the awards and how they were decided.

Each company must successfully achieve a set of 10 vehicle and program milestones agreed to with NASA, as well as meeting strict certification and safety standards.

“There are launch pads out there already being upgraded and there is hardware already being delivered,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the Kennedy Space Center-based Commercial Crew Program.

“Both companies have already accomplished their first milestones.”

Every American astronaut has been totally reliant on the Russians and their three person Soyuz capsules for seats to launch to the ISS since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in July 2011 following the final blastoff of orbiter Atlantis on the STS-135 mission.

Under the latest crew flight deal signed with Roscosmos [the Russian Federal Space Agency], each astronaut seat costs over $70 million.

“I don’t ever want to have to write another check to Roscosmos after 2017, hopefully,” said Bolden.

Under NASA’s commercial crew contracts, the average cost to fly US astronauts on the Dragon and CST-100 is $58 million vs. over $70 million on the Russian Soyuz.

At the briefing, Bolden indicated he was hopeful Congress would be more supportive of the program in the coming 2016 budget cycle than in the past that has already resulted in a 2 year delay in the first flights.

“Congress has started to understand the critical importance of commercial crew and cargo. They’ve seen, as a result of the performance of our providers, that this is not a hoax, it’s not a myth, it’s not a dream,” said Bolden.

“It’s something that’s really happening. I am optimistic that the Congress will accept the President’s proposal for commercial crew for 2016.”

The first unmanned test flights of the SpaceX Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 could take place by late 2016 or early 2017 respectively. Manned flights to the ISS would follow soon thereafter by the spring and summer of 2017.

Asked at the Jan. 26 briefing if he would fly aboard the private space ships, Administrator Bolden said:

“Yes. I can tell you that I would hop in a Dragon or a CST-100 in a heartbeat.”

Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Boeing’s plans for the CST-100 involve conducting a pad abort test in February 2017, followed by an uncrewed orbital flight test in April 2017, and then a crewed flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017, as outlined at the briefing by John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division.

“It’s a very exciting time with alot in development on the ISS, SLS, and Commercial Crew. Never before in the history of human spaceflight has there been so much going on all at once,” said John Elbon. “NASA’s exploring places we didn’t even know existed 100 years ago.”

“We are building the CST-100 structural test article.”

Meet Dragon V2 - SpaceX CEO Elon pulls the curtain off manned Dragon V2 on May 29, 2014 for worldwide unveiling of SpaceX's new astronaut transporter for NASA. Credit: SpaceX
Meet Dragon V2 – SpaceX CEO Elon pulls the curtain off manned Dragon V2 on May 29, 2014, for worldwide unveiling of SpaceX’s new astronaut transporter for NASA. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s plans for the Dragon V2 were outlined by Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

“The Dragon V2 builds on the cargo Dragon. First up is a pad abort in about a month [at Cape Canaveral], then an in-flight abort test later this year [at Vandenberg to finish up development work from the prior CCiCAP phase],” said Shotwell.

“An uncrewed flight test is planned for late 2016 followed by a crewed flight test in early 2017.”

“We understand the incredible responsibility we’ve been given to carry crew. We should fly over 50 Falcon 9’s before crewed flight.”

Both the Boeing CST 100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 will launch from the Florida Space Coast, home to all US astronaut flights since the dawn of the space age.

The Boeing CST-100 will launch atop a human rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The SpaceX Dragon will launch atop a human rated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from neighboring Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s commercial CST-100 “Space Taxi” will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014, at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A look through the open hatch of the Dragon V2 reveals the layout and interior of the seven-crew capacity spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
A look through the open hatch of the Dragon V2 reveals the layout and interior of the seven-crew capacity spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Dream Chaser Spacecraft Maker Loses NASA Crew Contract Protest

Update, 4 p.m. EST: Sierra Nevada’s statement, which was posted after the story was first published, is now mentioned below.

Sierra Nevada’s protest concerning NASA’s commercial crew program was turned down today (Jan. 5), according to a statement from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The company is developing a spacecraft called the Dream Chaser, which was in competition for NASA funding along with Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon to bring crews to the International Space Station. A few months ago, NASA awarded further development money to Boeing and SpaceX, prompting a protest from Sierra Nevada.

At the time, Sierra Nevada both protested the decision and requested a stop-work order on all commercial crew work. The stop-work order was lifted fairly quickly, but the protest remained under review. From today, this was the crux of the GAO statement, which you can read in full here:

In making its selection decision, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government.  Specifically, NASA recognized Boeing’s higher price, but also considered Boeing’s proposal to be the strongest of all three proposals in terms of technical approach, management approach, and past performance, and to offer the crew transportation system with most utility and highest value to the government.  NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX’s lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada.

In making its selection decision, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government.  Specifically, NASA recognized Boeing’s higher price, but also considered Boeing’s proposal to be the strongest of all three proposals in terms of technical approach, management approach, and past performance, and to offer the crew transportation system with most utility and highest value to the government.  NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX’s lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada.

Other key points:

  • The prices for each proposal were as follows: Sierra Nevada was $2.55 billion, Boeing’s was $3.01 billion and SpaceX’s $1.75 billion.
  • NASA, the GAO said, had “no undue emphasis” on any proposal’s schedule or the chances of a particular system making it to orbit by 2017. Also, the agency did say in its request for proposals that the 2017 certification goal would be a part of the process — a different point than what Sierra Nevada argued, who said the agency had added that stipulation while the process was underway.
  • NASA’s review of SpaceX’s price and “financial resources” was adequate, along with its evaluation of the competing proposals in terms of mission suitability and past performance. This was in contrast to Sierra Nevada’s argument.

This is part of what Sierra Nevada had to say about the decision. The company also said it plans to maintain ties with NASA. The full statement is here.

While the outcome was not what SNC expected, we maintain our belief that the Dream Chaser spacecraft is technically very capable, reliable and was qualified to win based on NASA’s high ratings of the space system. We appreciate the time and effort contributed to this process by the GAO and NASA to fully evaluate such a critical decision for the United States …

SNC also plans to further the development and testing of the Dream Chaser and is making significant progress in its vehicle design and test program. In addition, SNC is continuing to expand its existing, while developing new, partnerships domestically and abroad in order to expand the multi-mission flexibility of the system, reduce overall long-term costs of the vehicle and ensure long-term affordability and sustainability for the Dream Chaser.

A public record of the decision is expected in a few weeks. Right now, due to the proprietary nature of the information, only NASA personnel and a few “outside counsel” are able to view it, the GAO added.

Protest Delays NASA Commercial Crew Spacecraft Work: Report

NASA told two companies to halt work on the next phase of its commercial crew program — the spacecraft expected to replace Russian ones ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station — because of a protest related to the contract award, according to media reports.

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) filed a complaint on Sept. 26, shortly after its Dream Chaser shuttle-like design was not selected for further funding under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the program. Competitors SpaceX and Boeing each received billions of dollars for further development for their Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, which are expected to start flying around 2017.

A Spaceflight Now report, quoting NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz, said the agency told both selectees that they must “stop performance of the CCtCap contract” pending the result of the challenge, which is before the Government Accountability Office. The office’s deadline for a response is Jan. 5, the report said.

In a statement, SNC said this is the first fight it undertook in relation to a government contract in more than five decades of operations. “Inconsistencies” in the process, SNC added, prompted it to go forward with the protest:

Importantly, the official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance. SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition. SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. In fact, out of a possible 1,000 total points, the highest ranked and lowest ranked offerors were separated by a minor amount of total points and other factors were equally comparable.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden declined to comment on the situation last week in response to questions from reporters at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, citing the legal situation.

Boeing and SpaceX Win NASA’s ‘Space Taxi’ Contracts for Space Station Flights

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that Boeing and SpaceX have won the high stakes and history making NASA competition to build the first ever private ‘space taxis’ to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and restore America’s capability to launch our crews from American soil for the first time since 2011.

Bolden made the historic announcement of NASA’s commercial crew contract winners to build America’s next human rated spaceships at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at a briefing for reporters.

The ‘space taxi’ contract to build the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceships is worth a total of $6.8 Billion, with the goal to end the nation’s sole source reliance on Russia in 2017.

SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft unveiled May 29, 2014.  Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft unveiled May 29, 2014. Credit: NASA

Boeing was awarded the larger share of the contract valued at $4.2 Billion while SpaceX was awarded a lesser amount valued at $2.6 Billion.

“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” Bolden told reporters at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The awards from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) offices will continue to be implemented as a public-private partnership and are the fruition of NASA’s strategy to foster the development of privately built human spaceships that began in 2010.

Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial  CST-100  'Space Taxi' on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ on June 9, 2014 at its intended manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The private vehicle will launch US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both spaceships are capsule design with parachute assisted landings. The third competitor involving Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle offering runway landings was not selected for further development.

“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope.”

Both the Boeing CST 100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 will launch from the Florida Space Coast, home to all US astronaut flight since the dawn of the space age.

The Boeing CST-100 will launch atop a man rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The SpaceX Dragon will launch atop a man rated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from neighboring Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape.

Boeing's CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Boeing and SpaceX issued the following statements after the awards were announced.

“Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and general manager, Space Exploration, in a statement in response NASA’s award.

“The CST-100 offers NASA the most cost-effective, safe and innovative solution to U.S.-based access to low-Earth orbit.”

“Under the Commercial Crew Transportation (CCtCap) phase of the program, Boeing will build three CST-100s at the company’s Commercial Crew Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft will undergo a pad-abort test in 2016 and an uncrewed flight in early 2017, leading up to the first crewed flight to the ISS in mid-2017.”

“SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us. We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose,” said Elon Musk, CEO & Chief Designer, SpaceX, in a statement in response NASA’s award.

“It is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

launch-02_0

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Boeing Completes All CST-100 Commercial Crew CCiCAP Milestones on Time and on Budget for NASA – Ahead of Competitors

In the ‘new race to space’ to restore our capability to launch Americans to orbit from American soil with an American-built commercial ‘space taxi’ as rapidly and efficiently as possible, Boeing has moved to the front of the pack with their CST-100 spaceship by completing all their assigned NASA milestones on time and on budget in the current phase of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing is the first, and thus far only one of the three competitors (including Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX) to complete all their assigned milestone task requirements under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative funded under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The CST-100 is a privately built, man rated capsule being developed with funding from NASA via the commercial crew initiative in a public/private partnership between NASA and private industry.

The overriding goal is restart America’s capability to reliably launch our astronauts from US territory to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Private space taxis are the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that and end the gap in indigenous US human spaceflight launches.

Since the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program following its final flight in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their cramped but effective Soyuz capsule for rides to the station and back – at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.

Boeing announced that NASA approved the completion of the final two commercial crew milestones contracted to Boeing for the CST-100 development.

These last two milestones are the Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft and the Critical Design Review (CDR) of its integrated systems.

The CDR milestone was completed in July and comprised 44 individual CDRs including propulsion, software, avionics, landing, power and docking systems.

The Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review included an overall hazard analysis of the spacecraft, identifying life-threatening situations and ensuring that the current design mitigated any safety risks, according to Boeing.

“The challenge of a CDR is to ensure all the pieces and sub-systems are working together,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Commercial Crew program manager, in a statement.

“Integration of these systems is key. Now we look forward to bringing the CST-100 to life.”

Boeing CST-100 manned space capsule in free flight in low Earth orbit will transport astronaut crews to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 manned space capsule in free flight in low Earth orbit will transport astronaut crews to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

Passing the CDR and completing all the NASA milestone requirements is a significant step leading to the final integrated design for the CST-100 space taxi, ground systems and Atlas V launcher that will boost it to Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser and SpaceX Dragon V2 and are also receiving funds from NASA’s commercial crew program.

All three American aerospace firms vying for the multibillion dollar NASA contract to build an American ‘space taxi’ to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station and back as soon as 2017.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program office is expected to announce the winner(s) of the high stakes, multibillion dollar contract to build America’s next crew vehicles in the next program phase, known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), “sometime around the end of August/September,” NASA News spokesman Allard Beutel confirmed to me.

“We don’t have a scheduled date for the commercial crew award(s).”

There will be 1 or more CCtCAP winners.

Boeing CST-100 capsule interior up close.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 capsule interior up close. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

On June 9, 2014, Boeing revealed the design of their CST-100 astronaut spaceliner by unveiling a full scale mockup of their commercial ‘space taxi’ at the new home of its future manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) located inside a refurbished facility that most recently was used to prepare NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for assembly missions to the ISS.

The CST-100 crew transporter was unveiled at the invitation only ceremony and media event held inside the gleaming white and completely renovated NASA processing hangar known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) – and attended by Universe Today.

The huge 64,000 square foot facility has sat dormant since the shuttles were retired following their final flight (STS-135) in July 2011 and which was commanded by Chris Ferguson, who now serves as director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations.

Ferguson and the Boeing team are determined to get Americans back into space from American soil with American rockets.

Read my exclusive, in depth one-on-one interviews with Chris Ferguson – America’s last shuttle commander – about the CST-100; here and here.

Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017.  Ferguson is now  Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding.  Credit: NASA/Boeing
Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017. Ferguson is now Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding. Credit: NASA/Boeing

Boeing’s philosophy is to make the CST-100 a commercial endeavor, as simple and cost effective as possible in order to quickly kick start US human spaceflight efforts. It’s based on proven technologies drawing on Boeing’s 100 year heritage in aviation and space.

“The CST-100, it’s a simple ride up to and back from space,” Ferguson told me. “So it doesn’t need to be luxurious. It’s an ascent and reentry vehicle – and that’s all!”

So the CST-100 is basically a taxi up and a taxi down from LEO. NASA’s complementary human space flight program involving the Orion crew vehicle is designed for deep space exploration.

The vehicle includes five recliner seats, a hatch and windows, the pilots control console with several attached Samsung tablets for crew interfaces with wireless internet, a docking port to the ISS and ample space for 220 kilograms of cargo storage of an array of equipment, gear and science experiments depending on NASA’s allotment choices.

The interior features Boeing’s LED Sky Lighting with an adjustable blue hue based on its 787 Dreamliner airplanes to enhance the ambience for the crew.

Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry five person crews to the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry five person crews to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The reusable capsule will launch atop a man rated United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

“The first unmanned orbital test flight is planned in January 2017… and may go to the station,” Ferguson told me during our exclusive interview about Boeing’s CST-100 plans.

Since 2010, NASA has spent over $1.5 billion on the commercial crew effort.

Boeing has received the largest share of funding in the current CCiCAP phase amounting to about $480 million. SpaceX received $460 million for the Dragon V2 and Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has received a half award of $227.5 million for the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle.

SNC will be the next company to complete all of NASA’s milestones this Fall, SNC VP Mark Sirangelo told me in an exclusive interview. SpaceX will be the final company finishing its milestones sometime in 2015.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Boeing, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing's CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Airframe Structure for First Commercial Dream Chaser Spacecraft Unveiled

The orbital airframe structure for the first commercial Dream Chaser mini-shuttle that will launch to Earth orbit just over two years from now has been unveiled by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and program partner Lockheed Martin.

Sierra Nevada is moving forward with plans for Dream Chaser’s first launch and unmanned orbital test flight in November 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The winged Dream Chaser is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aimed at restoring America’s indigenous human spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

Lockheed Martin is fabricating the structural components for the Dream Chaser’s orbital spacecraft composite structure at the NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

MAF has played a long and illustrious history in human space flight dating back to Apollo and also as the site where all the External Tanks for NASA’s space shuttle program were manufactured. Lockheed Martin also builds the pressure vessels for NASA’s deep space Orion crew vehicle at MAF.

Each piece is thoroughly inspected to insure it meets specification and then shipped to Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas for integration into the airframe and co-bonded assembly.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Sierra Nevada chose Lockheed Martin for this significant role in building Dream Chaser airframe based on their wealth of aerospace experience and expertise.

The composite airframe structure was recently unveiled at a joint press conference by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Lockheed Martin at the Fort Worth facility.

“As a valued strategic partner on SNC’s Dream Chaser Dream Team, Lockheed Martin is under contract to manufacture Dream Chaser orbital structure airframes,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems, in a statement.

“We competitively chose Lockheed Martin because they are a world leader in composite manufacturing, have the infrastructure, resources and quality control needed to support the needs of an orbital vehicle and have a proven track record of leading our nation’s top aviation and aerospace programs. Lockheed Martin’s diverse heritage coupled with their current work on the Orion program adds an extra element of depth and expertise to our program. SNC and Lockheed Martin continue to expand and develop a strong multi-faceted relationship.”

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

“We are able to tailor our best manufacturing processes, and our innovative technology from across the corporation to fit the needs of the Dream Chaser program,” said Jim Crocker, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company Civil Space Line of Business.

Upon completion of the airframe manufacturing at Ft Worth, it will be transported to SNC’s Louisville, Colorado, facility for final integration and assembly.

Lockheed Martin will also process Dream Chaser between orbital flights at the Kennedy Space Center, FL in the recently renamed Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

SNC announced in July that they successfully completed and passed a series of risk reduction milestone tests on key flight hardware systems under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA that move the private reusable spacecraft closer to its critical design review (CDR) and first flight.

As a result of completing Milestones 9 and 9a, SNC has now received 92% of its total CCiCAP Phase 1 NASA award of $227.5 million.

“We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit,” says Sirangelo.

The private Dream Chaser is a reusable lifting-body design spaceship that will carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS. It will also be able to land on commercial runways anywhere in the world, according to SNC.

Dream Chaser is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around September 2014, NASA officials have told me.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Rosetta, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com