Risk Reduction Milestone Tests Move Commercial Dream Chaser Closer to Critical Design Review and First Flight

The winged Dream Chaser mini-shuttle under development by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has successfully completed a series of risk reduction milestone tests on key flight hardware systems thereby moving the private reusable spacecraft closer to its critical design review (CDR) and first flight under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aimed at restoring America’s indigenous human spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the space station.

SNC announced that it passed NASA’s Milestones 9 and 9a involving numerous Risk Reduction and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) advancement tests of critical Dream Chaser® systems under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with the agency.

Seven specific hardware systems underwent extensive testing and passed a major comprehensive review with NASA including; the Main Propulsion System, Reaction Control System, Crew Systems, Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS), Structures, Thermal Control (TCS) and Thermal Protection Systems (TPS).

SNC former astronaut Lee Archambault prepares for Dream Chaser® Crew Systems Test.  Credit: SNC
SNC former astronaut Lee Archambault prepares for Dream Chaser® Crew Systems Test. Credit: SNC

The tests are among the milestones SNC must complete to receive continued funding from the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Over 3,500 tests were involved in completing the Risk Reduction and TRL advancement tests on the seven hardware systems whose purpose is to significantly retire overall program risk enable a continued maturation of the Dream Chaser’s design.

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.

“By thoroughly assessing and mitigating each of the previously identified design risks, SNC is continuing to prove that Dream Chaser is a safe, robust, and reliable spacecraft,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems, in a statement.

“These crucial validations are vital steps in our Critical Design Review and in showing that we have a very advanced and capable spacecraft. This will allow us to quickly and confidently move forward in restoring cutting-edge transportation to low-Earth orbit from the U.S.”

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.

The 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 August/September 2014.

“Our partners are making great progress as they refine their systems for safe, reliable and cost-effective spaceflight,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“It is extremely impressive to hear and see the interchange between the company and NASA engineering teams as they delve into the very details of the systems that help assure the safety of passengers.”

After 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.

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.

It will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41 in Florida.

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.

The Dream Chaser design builds on the experience gained from NASA Langley’s earlier exploratory engineering work with the HL-20 manned lifting-body vehicle.

Read my prior story detailing the wind tunnel testing milestone – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, 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

Tour Around Boeing’s CST-100 Spaceliner to LEO: Photos

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – On Monday, June 9, Boeing revealed the design of their CST-100 astronaut spaceliner aimed at restoring Americas ability to launch our astronauts to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

The full scale CST-100 mockup was unveiled at an invitation only ceremony for Boeing executives and media held inside a newly renovated shuttle era facility at the Kennedy Space Center where the capsule would start being manufactured later this year.

Universe Today was invited to tour the capsule for a first hand inspection of the CST-100’s interior and exterior and presents my photo gallery here.

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 CST-100 is a privately built manrated capsule being developed with funding from NASA under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership between NASA and private industry.

The vehicle will be assembled inside the refurbished processing hangar known during the shuttle era as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3). Boeing is leasing the site from Space Florida.

Boeing is one of three American aerospace firms vying for a NASA contract to build an American ‘space taxi’ to ferry US astronauts to the space station and back as soon as 2017.

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

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

NASA will award one or more contracts to build Americas next human rated spaceship in August or September.

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

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 unveiled full scale mockup of their commercial  CST-100  'Space Taxi' on June 9, 2014 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 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

Chris Ferguson, the final shuttle commander for NASA’s last shuttle flight (STS-135) 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.

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

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.

Astronaut mannequin seated below pilot console inside Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' mockup.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Astronaut mannequin seated below pilot console inside Boeing’s commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ mockup. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Five person crews will fly Boeing CST-100 capsule to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Five person crews will fly Boeing CST-100 capsule to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

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

Ken Kremer

US astronauts will eventually enter the ISS through this docking port. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
US astronauts will eventually enter the ISS through this docking port. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and NASA’s final space shuttle commander inside Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule during unveiling ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014.  Nelson is seated below pilots console and receives CST-100 briefing from Ferguson who now directs Boeing’s crew efforts.  Nelson also flew in space aboard the Columbia shuttle in Jan. 1986.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and NASA’s final space shuttle commander inside Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule during unveiling ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014. Nelson is seated below pilots console and receives CST-100 briefing from Ferguson who now directs Boeing’s crew efforts. Nelson also flew in space aboard the Columbia shuttle in Jan. 1986. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 spaceship unveiled at Kennedy Space Center FL on June 9, 2014 Posing from left to right; Frank DelBello, Space Florida, John Elbon, Boeing VP Space Exploration, US Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, Boeing Director of Crew and Mission Operations and John Mulholland, Boeing VP Commercial Space Exploration.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 spaceship unveiled at Kennedy Space Center FL on June 9, 2014 Posing from left to right; Frank DelBello, Space Florida, John Elbon, Boeing VP Space Exploration, US Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, Boeing Director of Crew and Mission Operations and John Mulholland, Boeing VP Commercial Space Exploration. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) addresses crowd at unveiling ceremony for Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule to the ISS at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) addresses crowd at unveiling ceremony for Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule to the ISS at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014. 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’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 Unveils Commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ to Launch US Astronauts to Space from US Soil

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
Story updated[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Boeing unveiled a full scale mockup of their CST-100 commercial ‘space taxi’ on Monday, June 9, at the new home of its future manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center located inside a refurbished facility that most recently was used to prepare NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The overriding goal is restart our country’s capability to reliably launch Americans to space from US territory as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

The CST-100 crew transporter was revealed at an invitation only ceremony and media event held on Monday, June 9, 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 in July 2011 and which was commanded by Chris Ferguson, who now serves as director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations.

Universe Today was invited to be on location at KSC for the big reveal ceremony headlining US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and Boeing executives including shuttle commander Ferguson, for a first hand personal inspection of the private spaceship and also to crawl inside and sit in the seats of the capsule designed to carry American astronauts to the High Frontier as soon as 2017.

“Today we celebrate this commercial crew capsule,” said Sen. Nelson at the unveiling ceremony. “This vehicle is pretty fantastic and the push into space the CST-100 represents is historic.”

“We are at the dawn of a new Space Age. It’s complemented by the commercial activities going to and from the space station and then going outside low Earth orbit [with Orion], as we go to the ultimate goal of going to Mars. There is a bright future ahead.”

US Senator Bill Nelson and NASA’s final space shuttle commander inside Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule during unveiling ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014.  Nelson is seated below pilots console and receives CST-100 briefing from Ferguson.  Nelson also flew in space aboard the Columbia shuttle in Jan. 1986.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and NASA’s final space shuttle commander Chris Ferguson inside Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule during unveiling ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014. Nelson is seated below pilots console and receives CST-100 briefing from Ferguson, who now directs Boeing’s crew effort. Nelson also flew in space aboard the Columbia shuttle in Jan. 1986. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The purpose of developing and building the private CST-100 human rated capsule is to restore America’s capability to ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the space station from American soil aboard American rockets, and thereby end our total dependency on the Russian Soyuz capsule for tickets to space and back.

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.

US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) addresses crowd at unveiling ceremony for Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule to the ISS at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
US Senator Bill Nelson (FL) addresses crowd at unveiling ceremony for Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule to the ISS at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 9, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

The stairway to America’s future human access to space is at last literally taking shape from coast to coast.

Sen. Nelson, a strong space exploration advocate for NASA and who also flew on a space shuttle mission on Columbia back in January 1986, was the first person to climb the steps and enter the hatch leading to Boeing’s stairway to the heavens.

“This is harder to get in than the shuttle. But the seats are comfortable,” Nelson told me as he climbed inside the capsule and maneuvered his way into the center co-pilots seat.

Nelson received a personal guided tour of the CST-100 spaceship from Ferguson.

The capsule measures 4.56 meters (175 inches) in diameter.

The media including myself were also allowed to sit inside the capsule and given detailed briefings on Boeing ambitious plans for building a simple and cost effective astronaut transporter.

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 is among a trio of American aerospace firms, including SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp, vying for the next round of contracts to build America’s ‘space taxi’ in a public/private partnership with NASA using seed money under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

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

Boeing has received approximately $600 million and is on target to complete all of NASA’s assigned CCP milestones in the current contract phase known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) by mid-2014.

Boeing’s CST-100 crew capsule reveal on June 9 comes just two weeks after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Hollywoodesqe glitzy live show on May 29 – pulling the curtain off his firms ‘Dragon’ crew vehicle entry into NASA’s commercial crew program.

NASA officials say that the next round of contracts aims at building a human rated flight vehicle to dock at the ISS by late 2017.

The next contract phase known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) will result in one or more awards by NASA later this summer around August or September .

Sen. Nelson expressed his hope that the competition will continue since Congress appears likely to finally approve something near the President’s CCP funding request of over $800 million in the Fiscal 2015 NASA budget.

“With about $800 million, that’s enough money for NASA to do the competition for at least two and maybe more,” said Nelson. “That of course is up to NASA as they evaluate all the proposals.”

NASA had hoped to fly the first commercial crew missions in mid-2015.

But repeated CCP funding cuts by Congress since its inception in 2010 has already caused significant delays to the start of the space taxi missions for all three companies contending for NASA’s commercial crew contracts.

In fact the schedule has slipped already 18 months to the right compared to NASA’s initial plans thus forcing the agency to buy more Soyuz seats from the Russians at a cost of over $70 million each.

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

It was glorious to be seated inside America’s next spaceship destined to carry humans.

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

The next generation of US human spaceflight is finally coming to fruition after a long down time.

Read my exclusive new interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden explaining the importance of getting Commercial Crew online to expand our reach into space- here.

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

It's 'Thumbs Up' for unveiling of Boeing's CST-100 Space Taxi at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 9, 2014.  Florida's US Sen. Bill Nelson (left), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson (now Director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations, center) and Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose in front of capsule with stairway leading to open hatch.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
It’s ‘Thumbs Up’ for unveiling of Boeing’s CST-100 Space Taxi at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on June 9, 2014. Florida’s US Sen. Bill Nelson (left), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson (now Director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations, center) and Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose in front of capsule with stairway leading to open hatch. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Enter the Dragon: First Look Inside SpaceX’s New Crew Transporter to Orbit – Photos

Would you ‘Enter the Dragon’?
First look inside SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft unveiled by CEO Elon Musk on May 29, 2014. Credit: Robert Fisher/AmericaSpace[/caption]

Would you like to ‘Enter the Dragon’ for an up close look inside SpaceX’s new ‘V2’ crew transport ship to Earth orbit and the space station?

We’ve shown you lots of exterior shots of SpaceX’s next generation manned Dragon V2 spacecraft after Billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pulled the curtain off to reveal his future plans for human spaceflight on May 29 during a live webcast from SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, Calif.

And we’ve shown you the cool animation to see exactly ‘How it Works!’ from launch to landing.

Now we’ve compiled a stunning collection of imagery revealing what it’s like to actually stand within the gleaming walls of the futuristic Dragon spaceship from an astronauts perspective.

Check out the gallery of Dragon V2 imagery above and below.

Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

Experience this exciting new chapter of American ‘Commercial Human Spaceflight’ coming to fruition.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is a public private partnership between NASA and a trio of amazing American aerospace companies – SpaceX, Boeing amd Sierra Nevada – to create inexpensive but reliable new astronaut spaceships to the High Frontier.

And NASA’s unprecedented commercial crew program is so far ahead of any international competitors that I think they’ll soon be knocking at the door and regret not investing in a similar insightful manner.

The goal is to get American’s back in space on American rockets from American soil – rather than being totally dependent on Russian rocket technology and Soyuz capsules for astronaut rides to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.

Potential crew members check out the seats of the new SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft. Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
Potential crew members check out the seats of the new SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

“We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space. Commercial crew is really, really, really important,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told me in an exclusive interview – here.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pulls open the hatch to ;Enter the Dragon’.    Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pulls open the hatch to ‘Enter the Dragon’. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

Boeing and Sierra Nevada are competing with SpaceX to build the next generation spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 using seed money from NASA’s CCP.

The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.

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

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

Ken Kremer

The Dragon V2 spacecraft's seating arrangement with the control panel swung up to allow crewmembers to get into their seats. Once the crew is in place, the control panel swings down and locks in launch position. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
The Dragon V2 spacecraft’s seating arrangement with the control panel swung up to allow crewmembers to get into their seats. Once the crew is in place, the control panel swings down and locks in launch position. 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
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

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014.  Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

Why Commercial Crew is Critical for Future Exploration: One-on-One Interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses future of NASA human spaceflight during exploration forum at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MD – Why is NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop private human transport ships to low Earth orbit important?

That’s the question I posed to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden when we met for an exclusive interview at NASA Goddard.

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is the critical enabler “for establishing a viable orbital infrastructure” in the 2020s, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Universe Today in an exclusive one-on-one interview at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Bolden, a Space Shuttle commander who flew four time to space, says NASA wants one of the new American-made private crewed spaceships under development by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada – with NASA funding – to be ready to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth by late 2017. Flights for other commercial orbital space ventures would follow later and into the next decade.

Since the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle program following the final flight by STS-135 in 2011 (commanded by Chris Ferguson), America has been 100% dependent on the Russians to fly our astronauts to the space station and back.

“Commercial crew is critical. We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space,” Bolden told me, during a visit to the NASA Goddard cleanroom with the agency’s groundbreaking Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science probes.

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

Administrator Bolden foresees a huge shift in how the US will conduct space operations in low earth orbit (LEO) just a decade from now. The future LEO architecture will be dominated not by NASA and the ISS but rather by commercial entrepreneurs and endeavors in the 2020s.

“There are going to be other commercial stations or other laboratories,” Bolden excitedly told me.

And the cash strapped Commercial Crew effort to build new astronaut transporters is the absolutely essential enabler to get that exploration task done, he says.

“Commercial Crew is critical to establishing the low Earth orbit infrastructure that is required for exploration.”

“We have got to have a way to get our crews to space.”

“You know people try to separate stuff that NASA does into nice little neat packages. But it’s not that way anymore.”

Bolden and NASA are already looking beyond the ISS in planning how to use the new commercial crew spaceships being developed by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada in a public- partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“Everything we do [at NASA] is integrated. We have to have commercial crew [for] a viable low Earth orbit infrastructure – a place where we can do testing – for example with what’s going on at the ISS today.”

“And in the out years you are going to be doing the same type of work.”

“But it’s not going to be on the ISS.”

“After 2024 or maybe 2028, if we extend it again, you are going to see the people on commercial vehicles. There are going to be other stations or other laboratories.”

“But there won’t be NASA operated laboratories. They will be commercially viable and operating laboratories.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014.  Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

Private NewSpace ventures represent a revolutionary departure from current space exploration thinking. But none of these revolutionary commercial operations will happen if we don’t have reliable and cost effective human access to orbit from American soil with American rockets on American spaceships.

“We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space – first of all. That’s why commercial crew is really, really, really important,” Bolden emphasized.

The ongoing crises in Ukraine makes development of a new US crew transporter to end our total reliance on Russian spaceships even more urgent.

“Right now we use the Russian Soyuz. It is a very reliable way to get our crews to space. Our partnership with Roscosmos is as strong as it’s ever been.”

“So we just keep watching what’s going on in other places in the world, but we continue to work with Roscosmos the way we always have,” Bolden stated.

The latest example is this week’s successful launch of the new three man Russian-US- German Expedition 40 crew to the ISS on a Soyuz.

Of course, the speed at which the US develops the private human spaceships is totally dependent on the funding level for the Commercial Crew program.

Unfortunately, progress in getting the space taxis actually built and flying has been significantly slowed because the Obama Administration CCP funding requests for the past few years of roughly about $800 million have been cut in half by a reluctant US Congress. Thus forcing NASA to delay the first manned orbital test flights by at least 18 months from 2015 to 2017.

And every forced postponement to CCP costs US taxpayers another $70 million payment per crew seat to the Russians. As a result of the congressional CCP cuts more than 1 Billion US Dollars have been shipped to Russia instead of on building our own US crew transports – leaving American aerospace workers unemployed and American manufacturing facilities shuttered.

I asked Bolden to assess NASA’s new funding request for the coming fiscal year 2015 currently working its way through Congress.

“It’s looking better. It’s never good. But now it’s looking much better,” Bolden replied.

“If you look at the House markup that’s a very positive indication that the budget for commercial crew is going to be pretty good.”

The pace of progress in getting our crews back to orbit basically can be summed up in a nutshell.

“No Bucks, No Buck Rogers,” Chris Ferguson, who now leads Boeing’s crew effort, told me in a separate exclusive interview for Universe Today.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) inspect NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) inspect NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser and SpaceX Dragon ‘space taxis’ are all vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014 known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).

All three company’s have been making excellent progress in meeting their NASA mandated milestones in the current contract period known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Altogether they have received more than $1 Billion in NASA funding under the current CCiCAP initiative. Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts worth $460 million and $440 million, respectively. Sierra Nevada was given what amounts to half an award worth $212.5 million.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk just publicly unveiled his manned Dragon V2 spaceship on May 29.

Boeing’s Chris Ferguson told me that assembly of the CST-100 test article starts soon at the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA officials have told me that one or more of the three competitors will be chosen later this year in the next phase under CCtCAP to build the next generation spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017.

In order to certify the fitness and safety of the new crew transporters, the CCtCAP contracts will specify that “each awardee conduct at least one crewed flight test to verify their spacecraft can dock to the space station and all its systems perform as expected.”

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

Concurrently, NASA is developing the manned Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration. The state-of-the-art capsule will carry astronauts back to the Moon and beyond on journeys to Asteroids and one day to Mars.

“We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space. Commercial Crew is critical to establishing the low Earth orbit infrastructure that is required for exploration,” that’s the bottom line message from my interview with NASA Administrator Bolden.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, 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

Elon Musk Premiers SpaceX Manned Dragon V2 Astronaut Transporter – 1st Photos

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
Story updated[/caption]

SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk gushed with excitement as he counted down the seconds and literally pulled the curtain away to unveil his company’s new manned Dragon V2 astronaut transporter for all the world to see during a live streaming webcast shortly after 10 p.m. EST (7 p.m. PST, 0200 GMT) this evening, Thursday, May 29, from SpaceX HQ.

The first photos from the event are collected herein. And I’ll be adding more and updating this story as they flow in.

Musk’s Dragon V2 unveiling was brimming with excitement like a blockbuster Hollywood Science Fiction movie premiere – with lights, cameras and action.

But this was the real deal and hopefully gets America moving again back to thrilling, real space adventures in orbit and beyond – reaching for the stars.

“The Dragon V2 is a 21st century spacecraft,” Musk announced to a wildly cheering crowd. “As it should be.”

“We wanted to take a big step in spacecraft technology. It is a big leap forward in technology and takes things to the next level.”

“An important characteristic of that is its ability to land anywhere on land, propulsively. It can land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter.”

“I think that’s what a spaceship should be able to do.”

“It will be capable of carrying seven astronauts. And it will be fully reusable.”

Dragon V2, SpaceX's next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to space is unveiled by CEO Elon Musk on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Dragon V2, SpaceX’s next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to space is unveiled by CEO Elon Musk on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

The sleek gleaming spaceship looks decidedly different from the current cargo Dragon V1.

Read my “Dragon V2” preview articles leading up to the May 29 event – here and here.

Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014  Credit: SpaceX
Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

This new manrated Dragon is aimed at restoring US human launch access to space from American soil by carrying crews of up to seven US astronauts to low Earth orbit and eventually perhaps Mars – starting as soon as 2017.

Musk unveiled the gumdrop-shaped Dragon V2, or Version 2, to an overflow crowd of employees and media at SpaceX headquarters and design and manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, CA.

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

But Musk and SpaceX are not alone in striving to get Americans back to space.

Two other US aerospace firms – Boeing and Sierra Nevada – are competing with SpaceX to build the next generation spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017 using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership.

Altogether they have received more than $1 Billion in NASA funding.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014.  Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.

The ‘Dragon V2’ is an upgraded, man-rated version of the unmanned Dragon cargo spaceship that just completed its third operational resupply mission to the ISS with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on May 18.

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

Ken Kremer

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

BUDGET 2015: Flying SOFIA Telescope To Be Shelved For ‘Higher-Priority’ Programs Like Cassini

NASA is prepared to axe an airborne telescope to keep “higher-priority” programs such as the Saturn Cassini mission going, according to budget documents the agency released today (March 4). We have more information about the budget below the jump, including the rationale for why NASA is looking to shelve its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

NASA’s  has been flying the telescope for just over three years and recently took some nice snapsnots of the M82 supernova that astronomers have been eager to image. The agency’s administrator, however, said SOFIA has had its shot and it’s time to reallocate the money for other programs.

“SOFIA has earned its way, and it has done very well, but we had to make a choice,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden in a conference call with reporters regarding the fiscal 2015 $17.46 billion budget request. He added that NASA is in discussions with partner DLR (the German space agency) to look at alternatives, but pending an agreement, the agency will shelve the telescope in 2015.

In a short news conference focusing on the telescope only, NASA said the observatory had been slated to run for another 20 years, at a cost of about $85 million on NASA’s end per year. (That adds up to $1.7 billion in that timeframe by straight math, but bear in mind the detailed budget estimates are not up yet, making that figure a guess on Universe Today’s part.) DLR funds about 25% of the telescope’s operating budget, and NASA the rest.

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) during a flight in 2010. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) during a flight in 2010. Credit: NASA

“SOFIA does have a rather large operating cost compared to other missions, second only to Hubble [Space Telescope],” said NASA chief financial officer Beth Robinson in the second conference call. “There is a distinct trade in the operating mission universe about how many keep going and how much you free up (for new missions).”

The telescope isn’t the only such “trade” NASA made, Robinson added. Although not an exhaustive list, she said funding for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) is not in the base budget request, nor funding to accelerate development of the Pre-Aerosol, Clouds and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission.

SOFIA examines a “unique” part of the infrared spectrum, added NASA’s Paul Hertz, who heads the astrophysics division, but he noted infrared science is also performed by the Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Large Millimeter Array. Coming up soon is the James Webb Space Telescope. Also, the budget allocates development money for a new infrared observatory called Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

Below are other notable parts of the 2015 budget. These are high-level statements missing some detail, as the rest of NASA’s documentation won’t be released publicly until late this week or early next.

The full mosaic from the Cassini imaging team of Saturn on July 19, 2013… the “Day the Earth Smiled”
The full mosaic from the Cassini imaging team of Saturn on July 19, 2013… the “Day the Earth Smiled”

– NASA’s budget falls overall to $17.46 billion, down one percent from $17.64 billion. Planetary science and human exploration each had nearly equal reductions of around three percent, with education taking the deepest cut (24%) in high-level categories as NASA moves to consolidate that directorate with other agencies.

– Funding continues for 14 operating planetary missions, which are presumably the same 14 missions that are contained here. (That list includes Cassini, Dawn, Epoxi, GRAIL, Juno, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Exploration Rover/Opportunity, Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity, MESSENGER, New Horizons and Rosetta.) Separately, James Webb Space Telescope funding stays about the same as fiscal 2014, keeping it on track for a 2018 launch.

– NASA plans a mission to Europa. This was identified as the “second highest priority Flagship mission for the decade” in the National Research Council planetary science decadal survey, which called for a mission for “characterization of Europa’s ocean and interior, ice shell, chemistry and composition, and the geology of prospective landing sites.” NASA has allocated $15 million in fiscal 2015 for this mission, but it’s unclear if it’s going to be a big mission or a small one as the agency is still talking with the science community (and presumably checking its budget, although officials didn’t say that). If this goes through, it would fly in the 2020s.

Reprocessed Galileo image of Europa's frozen surface by Ted Stryk (NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)
Reprocessed Galileo image of Europa’s frozen surface by Ted Stryk (NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

– NASA’s humans-to-asteroid mission gets some more money. The agency requests $133 million for goals including “advancing solar electric propulsion and capture systems, and conduct of the Mission Concept Review in which the mission architecture will be established.” During the conference call with reporters, Bolden said the asteroid capture mission is a key step for NASA’s aim to have a manned Mars mission in the 2030s.

– Funding continues for NASA’s commercial crew program and Orion/Space Launch System program. It remains to be seen if the amounts allocated will be enough for what industry insiders hope for, but on a numbers basis, the Orion/SLS infrastructure funding falls to $2.78 billion (down 12% from $3.115 billion in FY 2014) and commercial crew funding increases to $848.3 million (up 20% from $696 million in FY 2014). Note the 2014 numbers are not finalized yet. NASA says the commercial funding will allow the program to maintain “competition”, although details are under wraps as the agency is evaluating proposals.

The International Space Station is extended to 2024. That news was made public in early January, but technically speaking that is a part of the fiscal 2015 budget.

There’s far more to the budget that could be covered in a single news article, and it should be noted there was an entire aviation component as well. We encourage you to check out the budget documents below for the full story so far.

2015 budget presentation

– 2015 budget overview

2015 budget overall fact sheet

2015 budget category fact sheets (science, aeronautics research, space technology, etc.)

Video: How the Dream Chaser Was Built

The origins of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser go back over 50 years to the US Air Force’s and NASA’s research into lifting body concepts and the X-20 Dyna-Soar, so this winged, lifting-body spacecraft is one of the tested and reviewed vehicles ever. This new video about the vehicle provides a summary of the development, testing and manufacturing of the Dream Chaser, which will launch on its first orbital testflight in 2016 as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to provide crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station.

The Dream Chaser is a classic case of not reinventing the wheel.

“A lot of people told us we needed to get a clear sheet of paper and start all over again,” said Mark Sirangelo, the head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems. “We decided we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to build on something.”

The Dream Chaser — which looks like a mini space shuttle — is the only reusable, lifting-body, human-rated spacecraft capable of landing on a commercial runway. It is about 9 meters long (29.5 feet) with a wingspan of 7 meters (22.9 feet).

Read more about the history of the Dream Chaser design here or at the Sierra Nevada website.

What’s Ahead for Human Rated SpaceX Dragon in 2014 – Musk tells Universe Today

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. During 2014, SpaceX plans two flight tests simulating human crewed Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from right here at pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Story updated[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A trio of American companies – SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada – are working diligently to restore America’s capability to launch humans into low Earth orbit from US soil, aided by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public-private partnership.

We’ve been following the solid progress made by all three companies. Here we’ll focus on two crucial test flights planned by SpaceX in 2014 to human rate and launch the crewed version of their entry into the commercial crew ‘space taxi’ sweepstakes, namely the Dragon spacecraft.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about the upcoming test flights with the head of SpaceX, Elon Musk.

So I asked Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, about “what’s ahead in 2014”; specifically related to a pair of critical “abort tests” that he hopes to conduct with the human rated “version of our Dragon spacecraft.”

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

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two abort flight tests in 2014 involve demonstrating the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated launch emergency.

The crewed Dragon – also known as DragonRider – will be capable of lofting up to seven astronauts to the ISS and remaining docked for at least 180 days.

First a brief overview of the goals of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. It was started in the wake of the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program which flew its final human crews to the International Space Station (ISS) in mid-2011.

“NASA has tasked SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs,’ says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Since 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their Soyuz capsules to hitch a ride to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

The abort tests are essential for demonstrating that the Dragon vehicle will activate thrusters and separate in a split second from a potentially deadly exploding rocket fireball to save astronauts lives in the event of a real life emergency – either directly on the launch pad or in flight.

“We are aiming to do at least the pad abort test next year [in 2014] with version 2 of our Dragon spacecraft that would carry astronauts,” Musk told me.

This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40.  Credit: SpaceX
This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to launch the crewed Dragon atop the human rated version of their own developed Falcon 9 next generation rocket, which is also being simultaneously developed to achieve all of NASA’s human rating requirements.

The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.

“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.

For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket. The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups.

This test will be conducted on SpaceX’s launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.

The second Dragon flight test involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives. The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Assuming all goes well we expect to launch the high altitude abort test towards the end of next year,” Musk explained.

The second test will use the upgraded next generation version of the Falcon 9 that was successfully launched just weeks ago on its maiden mission from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 3. Read my earlier reports – starting here.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. The upgraded Falcon 9 will be used to launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date, SpaceX has already successfully launched the original cargo version of the Dragon a total of three times. And each one docked as planned at the ISS.

The last cargo Dragon blasted off on March 1, 2013. Read my prior articles starting – here.

The next cargo Dragon bound for the ISS is due to lift off on Feb. 22, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL.

SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Orbital Sciences – the commercial ISS cargo competitor to SpaceX – plans to launch its Cygnus cargo vehicle on the Orb-1 mission bound for the ISS on Jan. 7 atop the firms Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Watch for my on site reports from NASA Wallops.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s goal is launching American astronauts from U.S. soil within the next four years – by 2017 to the ISS.

The 2017 launch date is dependent on funding from the US federal government that will enable each of the firms to accomplish a specified series of milestones. NASA payments are only made after each companies milestones are successfully achieved.

SpaceX was awarded $440 million in the third round of funding in the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCAP) initiative which runs through the third quarter of 2014. As of November 2013, NASA said SpaceX had accomplished 9 of 15 milestones and was on track to complete all on time.

Musk hopes to launch an initial Dragon orbital test flight with a human crew of SpaceX test pilots perhaps as early as sometime in 2015 – if funding and all else goes well.

Either a US commercial ‘space taxi’ or the Orion exploration capsule could have blasted off with American astronauts much sooner – if not for the continuing year-by-year slashes to NASA’s overall budget forced by the so called ‘political leaders’ of all parties in Washington, DC.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss SpaceX upcoming flight plans by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward with Flight Tests – Video

Left landing gear tire visibly failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Watch approach and landing test video below[/caption]

The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC).

The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference.

The primary goal of the Oct. 26 drop test was to see whether the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle would successfully fly free after being released by an Erickson Air-Crane from an altitude of over 12,000 feet and glide autonomously for about a minute to a touchdown on the Mojave desert landing strip.

“We had a very successful day with an unfortunate anomaly at the end of the day on one of the landing gears,” said Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser is one of three private sector manned spaceships being developed with funding from NASA’s commercial crew program known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station – totally lost following the space shuttle retirement.

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.

The unmanned approach and landing test (ALT) accomplished 99% of its objectives and was only marred by the mechanical failure of the left tire to drop down and deploy for a safe and smooth rollout.

SNC released a short 1 minute video of the test flight – see below – showing the helicopter drop, dive, glide and flare to touchdown. The failure of the landing gear to drop is clearly seen. But the video cuts away just prior to touchdown and does not show the aftermath of the skid or damage to the vehicle.

“The Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile. Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L right on centerline,” said SNC in a statement with the video.

The vehicle is “repairable and flyable again,” Sirangelo noted.

More good news is that the ships interior was not damaged and the exterior can be fixed.

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.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Since there was no pilot in the cockpit no one was injured. That also meant that no evasive action could be taken to drop the gear.

“We don’t think it’s actually going to set us back,” Sirangelo noted. “In some interesting way, it might actually accelerate it.

NASA’s commercial crew initiative aims at restoring America’s manned spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) – perhaps by 2017 – following the forced shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Until an American commercial space taxi is ready for liftoff, NASA is completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronaut rides to the ISS at a cost of roughly $70 million per seat.

Because Congress continues to significantly cut NASA’s budget further delays can be expected – inevitably meaning more payments to Russia and no savings for the American tax payer.

SNC was awarded $227.5 million in the current round of NASA funding and must successfully complete specified milestones, including up to five ALT drop tests to check the aerodynamic handling in order to receive payment.

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.

This particular vehicle had been intended to fly two test flights. Further drop tests were planned with a new test vehicle to be constructed.

The way forward is being evaluated.

“We don’t think there is going to be any significant delay to the program as a result of this. This was meant to be a test vehicle with a limited number of flights,” Sirangelo said.

SNC and NASA have assembled a team to investigate the cause of the anomaly.

“SNC cannot release any further video at this time,” said SNC.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the space shuttle.

Ken Kremer