The Year Ahead for NASA’s Commercial Crew Partners

nasa_commercial_crew_spacesuit

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With just over seven months to go, NASA’s commercial crew partners are racing to complete 14 remaining milestones in this phase of the competition to launch Americans into orbit on U.S.-built spacecraft.

The coming months will see SpaceX conduct to abort tests of its Dragon spacecraft and Sierra Nevada  conduct at least one additional drop test of its Dream Chaser shuttle. Boeing will conduct three critical design reviews and a comprehensive safety review of its CST-100 spacecraft.

The three competitors have completed a total of 33 out of 47 milestones through the end of 2013.  Several of these milestones have been completed but are awaiting acceptance by NASA. Once that is completed, the space agency will have awarded $892 million out of $1.167 billion in possible awards.

The competition is fierce, and with Congress continuing to cut NASA’s funding requests for the program, it’s not clear how many systems the space agency will be able to fund in the next round. NASA could down select to one partner, or perhaps provide full funding for one system and partial funding for a second.

Summaries of each company’s progress and remaining milestones are shown below.

SpaceX Commercial Crew Milestones Status
Milestones: 15
Milestones Completed: 11
Milestones Pending: 4
Funding Awarded to Date: $330 Million
Funding Remaining: $130 Million
Total Possible Funding: $460 Million

Of SpaceX’s four remaining milestones, two are abort tests that should be spectacular regardless of their outcomes. The first will involve a pad abort test of the Dragon sapcecraft for which SpaceX will be paid $30 million if it is successful. That test will be a precursor to an in-flight abort test that will also be worth a $30 million milestone payment.

SpaceX’s other two milestones include Dragon primary structure qualification testing and an integrated critical design review, which are worth a combined $70 million.

REMAINING SPACEX CCICAP MILESTONES
No.
DescriptionOriginal DateStatusAmount
11Pad Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct a pad abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The scenario where an abort is initiated while the CTS is still on the pad is a design driver for the launch abort system as it dictates the total impulse and also requires parachute deployment in close proximity to the ground.December 2013Pending$30 Million
12Dragon Primary Structure Qualification. SpaceX will conduct static structural testing of all Dragon primary structure components to ultimate load factors, as applicable. This series of tests will validate the Dragon structure’s ability to maintain integrity during all driving load cases as well as verify the accuracy of math models used to analyze the Dragon structure. Individual tests will be designed to exercise all credible failure modes and minimum margin areas.January 2014Pending$30 Million
13Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR). SpaceX will hold an Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR) to demonstrate that the maturity of the CTS design is appropriate to support proceeding with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test.March 2014Pending$40 Million
14In-Flight Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The in-flight abort test will supplement the pad abort test and complete the corners-of-the-box stress cases. The in-flight abort scenario represents a Dragon abort while under propulsive flight of the launch vehicle during the worst-case dynamic loads on the CTS.April 2014Pending$30 Million
TOTAL REMAINING, OUT OF $460 MILLION:$130 Million

Boeing Commercial Crew Milestones Status
Total Milestones: 20
Milestones Completed or Awaiting Acceptance: 15
Milestones Remaining: 5
Funding Awarded or Pending: $404.5 Million
Funding Remaining: $75.5 Million
Total Possible Funding: $480 Million

Boeing has five milestones to meet this year, three of which involve critical design reviews of the CST-100 spacecraft. The company will first conduct reviews of the spacecraft’s primary structures and software. Boeing will then establish and demonstrate a critical baseline design of the transportation system.

Boeing will also conduct a Phase 2 Safety Review of the crew transportation system to ensure that it meets all standards. This review, which is the company’s final milestone for this phase of the commercial crew program, is worth $10 million.

Boeing will also conduct a pilot-in-the-loop demonstration of the CST-100 spacecraft. That milestone is worth $13.9 million.

REMAINING BOEING CCICAP MILESTONES
No.DescriptionOriginal DateStatusAmount
10.Spacecraft Primary Structures Critical Design Review (CDR). A Spacecraft Primary Structures CDR confirms that the requirements, detailed designs, and plans for test and evaluation form a satisfactory basis for fabrication, assembly and structural testing.October 2013Pending$8.6 Million
17.Pilot-in-the-loop Demonstration. Boeing shall demonstrate key hardware/software interfaces for Manual Flight Control meets requirements, including operational scenarios and failure modes.February 2014Pending$13.9 Million
18.Software Critical Design Review. Boeing shall conduct a Spacecraft Software CDR. CDR confirms that the requirements, detailed designs, and plans for test and evaluation form a satisfactory basis for flight software development, verification, and delivery.March 2014Pending$15.1 Million
19.Critical Design Review (CDR) Board. Boeing shall establish and demonstrate a critical baseline design of the CCTS that meets system requirements. CDR confirms that the requirements, detailed designs, and plans for test and evaluation form a satisfactory basis for production and integration.April 2014Pending$17.9 Million
21A.Boeing Spacecraft Safety Review. Boeing shall prepare and conduct a Phase 2 Safety Review of the Commercial Crew Transportation System (CCTS) Spacecraft Critical Design Review (CDR) level requirements, system architecture and design, and associated safety products to assess conformance with Commercial Crew Transportation System certification process (CDR-level products). Focus is review of the updated hazard reports, hazard causes and controls, and specific safety verification methods to reflect the CDR level of design detail forthe CCTS Spacecraft Segment.
July 2014Pending$20 Million
TOTAL REMAINING, OUT OF $480 MILLION:
$75.5 Million

Sierra Nevada Commercial Crew Milestones Status
Total Milestones: 12
Milestones Completed or Awaiting Acceptance: 7
Milestones Remaining: 5
Funding Awarded or Pending: $157.5 Million
Funding Remaining: $70 Million
Total Possible Funding: $227.5 Million

To paraphrase Jerry Reed’s theme song from “Smokey and the Bandit,” Sierra Nevada has a long way to go and a short time to get there.  The company has five key milestones to meet in the next seven months, including at least one additional flight test of its Dream Chaser lifting-body spacecraft.

Sierra Nevada conducted a drop test of the vehicle at Edwards Air Force Base in California back in October. The flight went well, but the left landing gear failed to fully deploy, causing the Dream Chaser test article to crash. The company has had to make repairs to the vehicle before flying again.

Although Sierra Nevada officials declared the test a success, it actually demonstrated the slippage in the company’s schedule. The test flight actually fulfilled a milestone in the company’s previous commercial crew agreement with NASA under the CCDev round of funding that nominally ended in 2012.

At least one additional flight test must be conducted under the current CCiCAP round of funding. That test had originally been scheduled for April 2013, but it has now slipped into 2014 due to delays and the failure of the landing gear during the first drop flight in October.

Other milestones include wind tunnel testing, risk reduction and TRL advancement testing, main propulsion and reaction control testing.

REMAINING SIERRA NEVADA CCICAP MILESTONES
No.DescriptionOriginal DateStatusAmount
4.Engineering Test Article Flight Testing. The purpose of these additional free flight test(s) is to reduce risk due to aerodynamic uncertainties in the subsonic approach and landing phase of flight and to mature the Dream Chaser aerodynamic database. A minimum of one and up to five additional Engineering Test Article free flight test(s) will be completed to characterize the aerodynamics and controllability of the Dream Chaser Orbital Vehicle outer mold line configuration during the subsonic approach and landing phase.April 2013Pending$15 Million
8.Wind Tunnel Testing. The purpose of this testing is to reduce risk on both the DC vehicle and the DC/Atlas stack by maturing the DC and DCiAtias aerodynamic databases, providing improved fidelity in Reynolds number effects and control surface interactions, and will help determine pre-CDR required updates to the OML or control surface geometry if required.February 2014Pending$20 Million
9.Risk Reduction and TRL Advancement Testing. The purpose of these tests is to significantly mature all Dream Chaser systems to or beyond a CDR level.May 2014Pending$17 Million
9A.Main Propulsion and RCS Risk Reduction and TRL Advancement Testing. The purpose of these tests is to significantly mature the Dream Chaser Main Propulsion System and Reaction Control System to or beyond a CDR level. Risk reduction and Technology Readiness Level improvement tests will be completed for these systems.May 2014Pending$8 Million
15A.Reaction Control System Testing — Incremental Test No. 1. The purpose of the test on this pre-qualification unit is to support eventual qualification/certification by testing the thruster in flight-like environments.July 2014Pending$10 Million
TOTAL REMAINING, OUT OF $227.5 MILLION:$70 Million