SpaceX Running More Than One Year Behind Schedule on Commercial Crew

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s commercial crew program is running more than a year behind schedule on the Commercial Crew program it is performing for NASA.

Garrett Reisman, SpaceX’s Director of Crew Operations, said on Tuesday that an automated flight test of the Crew Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) has slipped into the second quarter of 2017.  (Spaceflight Now has the mission listed for May 2017.) It was scheduled to occur in March 2016 under the contract NASA awarded to SpaceX in September 2014.

The original schedule showed a test flight to the station with crew occurring in October 2016, some seven months after the automated one. Once testing is complete, SpaceX would begin ferrying astronauts to ISS on a commercial basis. The company has been awarded a minimum of six commercial missions.

During an appearance at the Space Tech Expo in Pasadena, Calif. Reisman showed a slide that indicated SpaceX had completely roughly half of the 18 milestones required to complete the Crew Dragon development program..

The table below shows milestones for the CCtCap phase. Two tests on the list — pad and in-flight abort tests — were not completed during SpaceX’s earlier Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract. There are also a pair of milestones — post-certification mission 1 initiation review and propulsion module validation testing — that were listed on Reisman’s slide that were not on the original list of paid milestones.

1Certification Baseline Review (CBR)December 2014Complete December 2014
2Initial Propulsion Module Testing CompleteApril 2015
Complete November 2015
CCiCap Pad Abort TestDecember 2013
May 2015
3Avionics Test Bed ActivationMay 2015Complete June 2015
4Delta Critical Design Review  (dCDR)June 2015Complete December 2015
5Docking System Qualification Testing CompleteAugust 2015Complete December 2015
6Propulsive Land Landing Test CompleteSeptember 2015Complete December 2015
7Launch Site Operational Readiness ReviewNovember 2015Complete November 2015
Post Certification Mission 1 Initiation Review —Complete December 2015
8Flight Test Without Crew Certification Review (FTCR)
December 2015Pending
9ECLSS Integrated Test CompleteFebruary 2016Pending
 –Delta Critical Design Review II (dCDR)June 2015Pending
 –Validation Propulsion Module Testing –Pending
10Flight to ISS Without CrewMarch 2016Pending
In-flight Abort TestApril 2014Pending
11Parachute Qualification CompleteApril 2016Pending
12Space Suit Qualification Testing CompleteMay 2016Pending
13Launch Site Operational Readiness Review for Crew
June 2016Pending
14Design Certification Review (DCR)July 2016Pending
15Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR)
September 2016Pending
16Flight to ISS with Crew
October 2016Pending
17Operations Readiness Review (ORR)January 2017Pending
18Certification Review (CR)April 2017Pending

The pad abort test, which was originally scheduled for December 2013, was not completed until 17 months later in May 2015. Meanwhile, initial Dragon propulsion module testing ended up slipping by seven months from April to November 2015.

SpaceX completed avionics test bed activation in June, only a month late. On June 28, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo ship to ISS exploded after launch, resulting in a six-month gap until the next flight.  SpaceX did not complete another commercial crew milestone until November even though several were scheduled.

The Delta Critical Design Review, which had been set for completion in June, was split into two parts. The first part was completed in December, with the remainder of the review still pending.

SpaceX has a number of crucial milestones to complete in order to fly the two test missions. These include: environmental and life support testing, spacesuit and parachute qualification, and propulsion module verification.