News Briefs: CRS2 Delayed, Accident Updates, Blue Origin & Dream Chaser Flights

SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Several agencies gave presentations yesterday before the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. Jeff Foust of SpaceNews reported on the following updates:

  • NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said the agency has delayed a decision on its Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contracts from June to September to allow more time to evaluate bids. Known bidders include SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
  • Gerstenmaier said Sierra Nevada’s final funded commercial crew milestone — a second drop test of the Dream Chaser shuttle — is now scheduled for December.
  • FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) George Nield reported that Blue Origin will be flying its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft within weeks.
  • Nield said the NTSB will be providing FAA AST with a report on the SpaceShipTwo accident within a month or two. He expects a final report to be published sometime in the summer.
  • Nield said he expects an accident report from Orbital ATK on last October’s Antares failure within the next several weeks.

  • therealdmt

    Wow, Sierra Nevada is delaying the DreamChaser drop tests to December!

    I really can’t understand their management. Their last likely chance to get a contract to use DreamChaser on anytime soon is CRS2. It would surely behoove them to show a sense of urgency and show that they can actually at least successfully get this thing on the ground — before NASA makes their selection!

  • therealdmt

    Otherwise, come September NASA will be looking at:

    Boeing – eminently capable, on the same page culture-wise, already prime contractor for the ISS that they’d be interfacing with, cargo return capability, (possible ISS reboost capability?). Launch vehicle well-proven but uses Russian engines. New rocket w/ American engines planned, has cool name

    Orbital – proven Cygnus cargo carrier, large volume for cargo and trash disposal, willing to go the extra mile to fulfill contract obligations. Launch rocket exploded and program abandoned, untested new rocket also uses Russian engines….

  • therealdmt

    Sierra Nevada – Once beloved but complicated, unproven design entices with its low G return capability and external unpressurized cargo section/trash disposal. Significantly (but not wildly) different version has already gone through some of the more stringent NASA manned vehicle reviews. NASA long wanted the crewed version of this vehicle, and CRS2 could provide a way to backdoor it through Congress. New cargo version even more complicated than the manned version they couldn’t complete the objectives for. Drop tested engineering test article once and, after a brief glide, crashed it. Despite announced plans otherwise, has never been reflown. Designed to be launch vehicle agnostic, but in another sense, that kinda means it doesn’t actually have a launch vehicle. Planned use of Shuttle runway would be nice for KSC and for immediate access to returned cargo. The possibility of landing near JSC in Houston, as well as maybe other locations, could entice. Medium priced, but given the remaining development risk, that wasn’t enough to sway NASA in the past. Former champion Laurie Garver now long gone.

    SpaceX – proven pressurized and unpressurized cargo capability provided by a proven all-American launch vehicle. An established partner that NASA currently relies on to keep the station in operation. Provides cargo services at by far the lowest price, with the enticing prospect of dramatically lower prices on the horizon.

  • therealdmt

    Given all that (and other considerations), which ones would you select for CRS2?

    Coming at it from the other end, which ones would be the easiest to eliminate from consideration?

  • stoffer

    The only thing complicated about Dream Chaser is their hybrid propulsion, which is also giving headaches with the SS2. The SS2 is a lot more complicated and delicate with the folding airframe. They would probably be better off if they just accepted the high-speed reentry, like XCOR wants to do. BTW, XCOR hasn’t said much about Lynx development lately.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I learned that Dream Chaser’s hybrid rocket propulsion was eliminated last year, at least this was the status of an arrangment made with NASA before SpaceX and Boeing were selected.

  • therealdmt

    Regarding complication, I submit for your consideration:

    – Why did they end up unintentionally crashing it? Gear isn’t all that complicated one might say, but it is a complication vs. a capsule and, significantly, the Sierra Nevada team wasn’t able to successfully handle it (yikes!)

    – How are the new folding wings going to work? They’ll always deploy fully (and not early), right? (unlike say, the landing gear)

    – They had to add folding wings to put it in a shroud, because a lifting body produces lift — which when mounted vertically on a rocket manifests itself as a side bending force. Which gets complicated.

    – What happens to the center of lift with a lifting body during hypersonic re-entry, and how will this relate to the CG? Not saying this is a show stopper, but a return from orbit demonstration would be a big step in buying down this risk. Ballast may be needed, reducing performance. What will be the final performance?

    – And as you mention, what are the main engines going to be? Adding new engines to an existing design is problematic.

    – Now they’re gonna stick an external cargo trunk onto it.

    – Full [backwards] auto-docking (definitiely more complicated than Dragon and Cygnus’s “berthing” at the ISS) and auto land.

    I’m not saying anything is impossible, just that it’s clearly more complicated than a disposable container w/ bus like Cygnus, and even more complicated than a capsule like Dragon 2 or CST-100 — and that Sierra Nevada hasn’t shown the ability to navigate basic issues like deciding on a propulsion system(!) or seemingly minor complications such as successfully deploying landing gear or ensuring a viable fail-safe mode if that landing gear didn’t fully deploy. Or the ability to stick to a schedule (though SpaceX is clearly guilty on that one too).

  • windbourne

    They are working as fast as possible.
    Money is an issue.

  • therealdmt

    Definitely, money must be an issue.

    I’ve always liked the DreamChaser, and had really been hoping (after they lost out on the commercial crew contract) that the next cargo contract could be a lifeline for them. I don’t know if they are going to be able to be reasonably justified as one of the top 2 (if it will be two) candidates though.

    What do you think? The DreamChaser’s capabilities are intruiging and NASA has invested quite a bit in them already.

  • windbourne

    Well, I am hopeful.
    We need more companies like SNC that is willing to put their own money into this as well as into IP.
    SNC is willing to do R&D like Bigelow, BO, and SpaceX, but at the current moment, they are tight on money.

  • therealdmt

    “We need more companies like SNC that is willing to put their own money into this as well as into IP.
    SNC is willing to do R&D like Bigelow, BO, and SpaceX…”

    Yeah, I definitely hope they succeed too.

  • Ruri Hoshino

    If VG went with something like DreamChaser for their reentry vehicle and a hydrocarbon engine like Xcor they would probably be already flying customers.

  • Ruri Hoshino

    Most of DC is proven technology the OML is based of the HL-20 which was studied a lot which in turn was based on BOR-4 with flew into space and the EDL mode is statistically the safest one for orbital vehicles tried so far.
    Both shuttle accidents were launch vehicle stack interaction related.
    The least safe method of landing seems to be how Soyuz lands in which has resulted in numerous injuries in the past.

  • Ruri Hoshino

    I always thought Boeing getting chosen for a less capable vehicle at a higher price probably had more to do with Boeing having more people in Washington then anything engineering related.
    Hopefully they’ll still win the CRS2 contract as DCCS blows everything out of the water except for LM’s Jupiter.
    It’s 12,125 lbs which is almost as much as the Japanese HTV except it offers 3,858lbs of down mass.