NASA Awards $30 Million to SpaceX for Abort Test

Dragon abort test with SuperDraco engines.  (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon abort test with SuperDraco engines. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has approved a $30 million milestone payment to SpaceX under the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with the company following a recent and successful pad abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Data gathered during the test are critical to understanding the safety and performance of the Crew Dragon spacecraft as the company continues on the path to certification for crew missions to the International Space Station, and helping return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States.

The Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines fired at 9 a.m. EDT on May 6 for about six seconds, each instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust and lifting the spacecraft off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The spacecraft traveled 3,561 feet (1,187 meters) up before jettisoning its trunk and safely splashing down under three main parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean, 3,606 feet (1,202 meters) from the launch pad.

“This test was highly visible and provided volumes of important information, which serves as tangible proof that our team is making significant progress toward launching crews on American rockets from America soon,” said Jon Cowart, partner manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The reams of data collected provide designers with a real benchmark of how accurate their analyses and models are at predicting reality. As great as our modern computational methods are, they still can’t beat a flight test, like this, for finding out what is going on with the hardware.”

The successful test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch escape capabilities demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to save astronauts in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.

“This is the first major flight test for a vehicle that will bring astronauts to space for the entire Commercial Crew Program,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. “The successful test validated key predictions as it relates to the transport of astronauts to the space station.  With NASA’s support, SpaceX continues to make excellent and rapid progress in making the Crew Dragon spacecraft the safest and most reliable vehicle ever flown.”

The approval of the pad abort test milestone payment follows NASA’s authorization for Boeing to begin work toward its first post-certification mission. These steps ensure continued progress in the agency’s effort to return to U.S. soil American crew launches to the International Space Station. SpaceX is expected to receive its authorization to proceed with work on a post-certification mission later this year. The determination of which company will fly the first mission to station will be made at a later time.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

For the latest on Commercial Crew progress, bookmark the program’s blog at:

http://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

  • windbourne

    I wonder how much it actually cost spacex to do this test?

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Was it just for the test or did it include significant development of the vehicle on the way to the test as well? I suspect the latter.
    Cheers

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Interesting the comment about a real flight test beating computational methods and this from NASA which is prepared to accept the paperwork in lieu of a real in-flight abort test from Boeing but not apparently SpaceX.
    Just an observation.
    Cheers

  • windbourne

    Was it NASA that required the test? Or did spacex decide to do this and show the world?

  • Dennis

    SpaceX would do a test such as this and on their own dime anyway, the fact that they now get $30M for it because of a NASA contract… yay bonus 😀 So who cares how much the costs were for them, it matters that they were willing to commit to it!

  • Hug Doug

    The CCtCap milestones were proposed by the companies in accordance with guidelines provided by NASA.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    So is that a yes or a no?
    Cheers

  • Hug Doug

    Yes, NASA required tests of the abort systems.

  • Kapitalist

    Dragon is flying on its own power. What is there in the world thus far to compare that with?

  • windbourne

    and yet, SpaceX is doing the in-flight abort, while Boeing is not. My guess is that SpaceX chose to do this to showcase their dragon. And if that is true, that is smart.

  • windbourne

    I agree.
    In fact, I am wondering if NASA is not properly funded, if SpaceX will finish V2 on its own?
    It seems like the smart thing is to get V2 certified sooner so that they can not only do ISS, but also can start Bigelow’s alpha. That later will enable SpaceX to make some good money considering that they will be using F9R.

  • Hug Doug

    If you think of the pad-abort as a systems test of the SuperDraco system, and the in-flight abort test as more of an integrated systems test, it really fits well with SpaceX’s design, build, test, improve, repeat methodology. Whereas the Boeing pad abort test will be much more of a final integrated systems test, which also fits with its engineering first, design, iterate design, finalize design, build, then test approach. Both companies are playing to their strengths.

  • Hug Doug

    I’m sure SpaceX would finish the Dragon V2 on its own, but it would definitely take longer without NASA funding and expertise.

  • windbourne

    I can not image NASA withholding their expertise.
    And lets be honest. That part is far far more important than the money to SpaceX.
    Look at F1-1. That was SpaceX WITHOUT NASA help.
    NASA is the one that showed them how to put quality first after that fiasco.

    I only wish that more American companies would take advantage of this.

    As to the money, it seems like SpaceX is really getting to where they have some major profits. They have invested into solar city so that in the future they can afford to send ppl to Mars.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, basically, you are saying that Boeing is doing waterfall design while spaceX is iterative. However, the truth is, that Boeing’s aircraft designs is NOT waterfall. It is actually iterative. The 787 was the first aircraft that was NOT iterative (at least since the 707; not sure about before it ). THat is part of the reason why the 78 was such a cluster.

    Now, with that said, the space group is different than the commercial air, which is different than the military air. So, it is possible that the others handle things differently, though I somehow doubt it.

  • dbooker

    I find it surprising that they didn’t get the $30 million immediately upon execution of the test. Why would the data need to be analyzed and deemed successful? Was Orbital’s last Cygnus launch successful? No. But they got paid anyway.
    Maybe SpaceX needs sharper lawyers to draw up their government contracts. They seem to have pretty good rocket scientists.

  • Hug Doug

    If you were a teacher, would you give a major test to your students and then let them report their own grades to you without checking their work?

  • Hug Doug

    Well, they would need to set up a new, probably unfunded Space Act Agreement with SpaceX.

    That’s not entirely true, the Merlin engine was heavily based on NASA’s Fastrac rocket engine, with a clean-sheet turbopump design. And they did get development funds from the Air Force and DARPA.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Are they really using any of NASA expertise? Also in the business world time is money, so they would probably work to finish it sooner.

  • Hug Doug

    Oh, yes. In the CCtCap agreements, there’s significant NASA assistance / oversight with testing and so on, much more than in the previous CCDev and CCiCap.

    No, it would definitely go slower, since they would be without development assistance, it would take longer to get all the testing done without the use of NASA facilities (unless they set up a Space Act Agreement, which also takes time to do), and most importantly, they would be without NASA funding.

    Unless you’re assuming they’d just bang it all together without any testing. Yeah, that sounds safe.

  • mfck

    Also, the CRS and the CCiCap contracts are hardly comparable. If you are an american citizen, you should be rather happy that a government agency conditions its money payments with predefined and measurable terms.

  • tdperk

    If it required the same from it’s pet crony capitalists, I’d be happier.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Hug, funding definitely, expertise not so much, with the exception of the LEM. SpaceX is really in virgin territory with the retro-thrust landing approach from LEO to the Earth’s surface. This approach will be ideal for landing scalable loads upon the surfaces of the Moon and Mars (NASA is having all sorts of problems with it’s shutes at present). Regards, Paul.

  • Hug Doug

    Take a look at their remaining milestones, there’s a lot more subsystems for SpaceX to test, integrate, and test again than just the retropropulsive landing system. Most importantly, currently missing from the Dragon are the life support systems, docking systems, and avionics. NASA’s got plenty of expertise with those.

    NASA is having a problem with a brand-new supersonic parachute design that is twice as big as anything that has ever flown before. That does not translate to them having a general problem with parachutes.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Does not cover direct the topic, but I fished this important message, what does it mean?

    http://qz.com/422775/facebook-and-google-are-out-of-the-space-race/

  • Hug Doug

    Here’s what it means, from right in the article:

    “Facebook is dropping its plans for a geo-stationary satellite over concerns that it will not recoup costs. Google, which hired satellite entrepreneur Greg Wyler to prepare an satellite constellation in 2014, backed out of that plan earlier this year.”

    “Ambitious satellite-internet projects have a history of failure. Satellite-internet services today are fairly expensive, and offer slow data speeds.”

    “Google and Facebook have tabled their satellite plans — they are apparently riskier than self-driving cars and virtual reality, to name two experimental areas where these companies are still staking aggressive claims.”

    Read this article for more details:

    http://qz.com/294888/satellite-internet-is-a-space-business-widow-maker-so-why-does-elon-musk-want-in/

  • Snofru Chufu

    Thanks.

  • mfck

    Don’t wait for NASA on your happiness though.

  • Vladislaw

    That article is eight months old. Google and fidelity invested 1 billion in SpaceX for sats and SpaceX already has the two test article satellites named. Wyler teamed up with Virgin Galitic and were planning on launcher 1 puting his sats up?
    The reason SpaceX and Wyler broke up, from what I read, is that SpaceX wants to production line smaller sats the 4000+ number. Wyler is around 650 if I remember correctly.

  • Hug Doug

    The article initially mentioned by Snorfu is from two days ago.

    http://qz.com/422775/facebook-and-google-are-out-of-the-space-race/

  • DTARS

    It all boils do to this
    Would you rather fly in a capsule that has tested at max q abort or not?

    I wouldn’t fly with Boeing given a choice.

    F them on skipping the abort test because their boosters are still a rip off which they think is fine to bill me, but can’t afford to pay for themselves.

    F THEM!!!

  • Hug Doug

    Boeing didn’t skip the in-flight abort test, it was never required.

  • DTARS

    So? They are being paid more money than SpaceX yet they are delivering a less safe product. Because they are unwilling to spend the money and or time to test it.

  • Hug Doug

    They are not delivering a less safe product, and it is being thoroughly tested. Their abort motors already completed development testing in 2013, and qualification testing in 2014.

    https://www.rocket.com/article/aerojet-rocketdyne-completes-cst-100-work-commercial-crew-integrated-capability-contract

    Integrated tests will precede the pad-abort test, per the CCtCap requirements.