NASA, Partners Provide Updates on Commercial Crew

commercial_crew_earthDuring last week’s Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif., a panel of NASA and private sector partners gathered to discuss their progress on returning U.S. crew launches to American soil.

Below is a summary of their comments that provides some insights into where each partner is in development and what lies ahead for the rest of the year.

NASA is expected to award the next round of commercial crew contracts later this year.


Phil McAlister (Moderator)
Director, Commercial Spaceflight

Kathy Lueders
Acting Program Manager, Commercial Crew Program

Dr Garrett Reisman
DragonRider Project Manager

John Curry
Senior Director and Dream Chaser Co-Program Manager
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Christopher Ferguson
Director of Crew and Mission Operations, CST-100


NASA Commercial Crew

Kathy Lueders

  • In response to question, Lueders says NASA is looking at options of flying commercial crew missions to the International Space Station more than the nominal twice per year
  • Commercial crew effort now includes more than 100 providers in 34 states

SpaceX DragonRider

SpaceX Dragon abort test article. (Credit: SpaceX)
SpaceX Dragon abort test article. (Credit: SpaceX)

Garrett Reisman

  • Only 4 milestones left in SpaceX’s CCiCap award, “but they’re big ones”
  • 4 milestones include: integrated critical design review, pad abort test, in-flight abort test, Dragon primary structures qualification
  • The good news is once we get these things done, we’re almost there
  • We are focused on completing the design, safety, reducing risks and preparing for Dragon and Falcon 9 certification
  • Goal is to have Americans being launched to space once again on American rockets and end reliance on Russian Soyuz transports
  • In the long term, there could be a 10 times increase in commercial crew demand
  • Falcon Heavy will be at Vandenberg Air Force base by end of 2014, with the first test launch in early 2015
  • Falcon Heavy will carry four times the payload of Falcon 9 to both low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit
  • SpaceX now closer to 4,000 employees now
  • Commercial crew worked well because the model allowed for rapid decision making. NASA got a lot of value for investment
  • Very excited about NASA’s efforts to commercial cargo/crew model for deep space exploration

Boeing CST-100

Christopher Ferguson

  • Boeing has three milestones to meet by August under this round of the commercial crew program, including an integrated Critical Design Review scheduled for July
  • CST-100 vehicle designed for repeated reuse
  • Need more destinations to make crew services feasible
  • People won’t want to just orbit for a few days in small craft
  • Boeing has a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing private space stations
  • Boeing has some “wonderful ideas” for a permanent name for CST-100, which is an abbreviation for Crew Space Transportation
  • Won’t rename CST-100 vehicle until after the next round of commercial crew awards, which is expected later this year
  • Boeing, NASA and Space Florida planning a ceremony in early June for the hand-over of the former Orbital Processing Facility 3 at the Kennedy Space Center for use in assembly CST-100 vehicles
  • Boeing is interested in using CST-100 vehicle for cargo delivery runs in the future
  • Ferguson, a former space shuttle astronaut, was initially skeptical of commercial crew but has been quite amazed by what Boeing has been able to accomplish with a limited budget
  • Ferguson noted that Friday, April 4 marked the 1,000th day since the launch of the last U.S. human space mission from American soil – the STS-135 space shuttle mission that he commanded

Sierra Nevada Corporation

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)
Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

John Curry

  • Dream Chaser engineering test article will be used for further test flights in the Fall
  • Dream Chaser test flights in Fall will be done with the avionics for the orbital vehicle installed
  • Significantly upgraded Dream Chaser systems, thermal protection to avoid Columbia accident
  • Unmanned Dream Chaser orbital flight scheduled for November 2016
  • SNC is interested in using Dream Chaser for cargo flights to the International Space Station
  • Engine work with Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane is going very well
  • SpaceShipTwo engine is a commercial “spin in” for Dream Chaser, which uses two smaller hybrid motors
  • Expects SpaceShipTwo to enter commercial service in the next year or so

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