ASAP Update on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) held a meeting on July 21, 2016 at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Below is a summary of the status of the  Commercial Crew program and the Boeing and SpaceX vehicles, including top programmatic risks.

Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Status

  • ASAP again had a very open and candid interaction with the CCP.
    CCP Program Manager Kathy Lueders demonstrates exceptional leadership and transparency and willingness to discuss all the issues in the Program.
  • Both providers are working to the schedule, which is challenging.
  • All the schedules are very success-­oriented and may not hold.
  • There are no specific schedule concerns at this time, but a lot of work is still ahead.
  • The next year or so will be a defining moment as the program is about to enter the hardware testing phase.
  • Over the next 16 to 18 months, the public will see a lot of things happening.
  • All of the suppliers in the CCP are on the cusp of a number of very visible actions.
  • At this point, the providers are tracking to schedule and making significant progress.

Vehicle Status

Boeing CST-100 Starliner

  • Crew module is in firm configuration
  • Service module has been shipped to Huntington Beach facility
  • Crew module shipment to Huntington Beach scheduled for August
  • Working off issues involving non-­linear dynamic acoustics and loads on the stack
  • Water and land landing and qualification tests being conducted at NASA Langley
  • Console simulations done for pre-­launch, ascent, and recovery
  • Acceptance testing on trainers at NASA JSC
  • Parachute qualification test scheduled for August
  • Hardware deliveries taking place at NASA KSC
  • About 40 percent of components will be in qualification within next 6 months
  • Crew cargo processing facility (high bay) at KSC is complete
  • Work on hazardous processing facility is underway
  • Ribbon cut on Space Training Analysis and Review (STAR) Facility in Houston.

SpaceX Crew Dragon

  • Certification plan has been approved
  • 20 verification events delivered
  • 2 verification events fully approved
  • 12 alternate standards have been submitted and approved
  • Completed the delta critical design review (CDR) for the spacesuit and trun
  • Many other delta CDR packages have been delivered and reviewed
  • Others delta CDR packages are on track for delivery
  • About 50 percent through design reviews for crew interfaces
  • NASA working with SpaceX as company looks at the actual Falcon 9 crew configuration
  • Six full thrust tests with “load and go” operations completed with densified propellant
  • Completed all three demonstration flights needed for range approval
  • Continued work on Dragon pressure vessel weld and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) testing.

Unfunded Space Act Agreements (SAAs)

Blue Origin

  • Working with NASA to develop their own rocket and, with ULA, a rocket engine
  • Technical interchange meeting with NASA is scheduled for this summer.

Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser

  • Company continues to work on flying qualities and stability and control
  • Considerable wind tunnel work has been done
  • Orbital capable pressure test will be conducted at Lockheed Martin facility.

Top Programmatic Risks

Requirements Changes. Both of the commercial manufacturers have proposed to NASA certain changes in standards and policies. NASA must review these and determine whether these alternate standards meet NASA requirements or not.

Closing Loss of Crew (LOC) Gap.  The gap is between what the Program goal is and what the current analysis indicates that the systems will achieve.

Micrometeoroid and orbital debris damage [MMOD) is the primary threat to both vehicles for long-duration stays in orbit. The MMOD damage analysis depends on the modeling of the environment, which is in many aspects speculative and quite robust. There are discussions regarding gathering additional historical information to determine if the environmental model is perhaps too robust.

Search and Rescue (SAR) Posture. The Program has been working with the Navy SAR people to put together high-­fidelity simulators to train rescue personnel in egress under various conditions. They are also working to provide those simulators to the typical SAR organizations so that they can continue this training.

The primary program safety risk is continued effort analysis and design changes to meet the LOC goal. That activity is ongoing with both suppliers.


  • BorgWorshipper

    CST100: “About 40 percent of components will be in qualification within next 60 months”. That makes no sense.

  • mattmcc80

    Yeah, kinda hoping that’s a typo. 6 months makes sense. 5 years, not so much.

  • JamesG

    Its pretty much been the pace Boeing has been going at though… They are just in it for the easy government money, the longer they can drag it out, the better.

  • duheagle

    Under ordinary circumstances – i.e., FAR/Cost Plus – you’d be right. But CCP contracts are pay-for-milestones-achieved. No milestones achieved, no pay. Boeing has no institutional incentive, on this program, to dawdle.

    That Boeing’s progress has been slower than SpaceX’s is mainly due to its long-established norms of program management. Institutionally, OldSpace is just slower than NewSpace. Contrasted to how LockMart is doing with Orion, though, Boeing is a veritable greyhound on Starliner.

  • duheagle

    I must say that, given ASAP’s usual tendency toward hyperventilation and pearl-clutching – even on previous reports about CC – that this latest report seems atypically upbeat. The worst thing they could find seems to be that the current mathematical model still makes micro-meteorites and orbital debris a problem anent CC’s loss of crew probability goal. Even here, ASAP seems willing to entertain the possibility that physical reality may diverge significantly from the model’s assumptions. If even the paid, professional worry-warts can find so little with which to quibble, I’d say the CC program is in excellent shape. We are, in all likelihood, only a year away from a first CC test flight with crew aboard.

  • JamesG

    Oh, they’ll hit the milestones, they just aren’t in a hurry to do it.

  • JamesG

    Yeah, as if anything has changed since STS ended. Both CC vehicles MUCH better protect their reentry heatshields from MMOD that the Orbiters which left them exposed during the entire time on-orbit.

    Too many NASA folks hanging around with nothing better to do…

  • Douglas Messier

    It’s a typo.

    Everyone settle down.

  • Jeff Carter

    But on the other hand, the CC vehicles will serve “lifeboat” duty and spend six months on-orbit, a much longer duration than an Orbiter mission…

  • therealdmt

    That’s the big danger — simply time spent in orbit.

    NASA actually has the responsibility for reducing a good chunk of this risk, rather than just the contractors. Where the vehicles are parked (using the station as a shield) can do much to reduce the number of projected strikes.

    Thinking about it just now, a changeout of lifeboats at, say, the 3 month point would reduce the number of projected MMOD events approximately in half, though of course at considerable expense. So, NASA’s looking to rework their “perhaps overly robust” MMOD model to see if they can reduce the projected risk of a Loss Of Vehicle/Crew that way!

  • JamesG

    If Soyuz can handle it, I’m sure Dragon and CST-100 can.

  • Jeff2Space

    While MMOD may be an issue to be concerned about, most likely a hit would occur while attached to ISS, which could be used as a “safe haven”. So conceivably, the crew would just wait until a replacement commercial crew vehicle could be sent to ISS to bring them back.

    Also, historically, how has Soyuz fared? I don’t recall a Soyuz ever developing a serious issue due to a MMOD strike.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    There were 2 or 3 reported hits that caused visible damage to the inside of the Soyuz and Progress. But to my knowledge nothing more than some pictures and a post mission analysis came of it, certainly no major concerns for failure on orbit or entry

  • duheagle

    They’re in a hurry. It’s just that the OldSpace definition of “hurry” is a lot slower than the NewSpace definition. Running flat out has a different meaning for a 70 year-old with bunions and arthritis than it does for Usain Bolt.

  • windbourne

    actually, back in the 50s and 60s, old space moved right along.
    But, back then, they spent their own money as well as gov. money.

  • mlc449

    It’s interesting that despite the lack of billions and billions in Congressional funding the CC program is arguably performing much better and more strongly than SLS/Orion could ever hope to achieve.

  • duheagle

    Back in the 50’s and 60’s they weren’t so old either.

  • duheagle

    Both interesting and instructive, I’d say. But perhaps not enough so in either case to interest or instruct our current political class.

  • windbourne

    totally right. And they were ran by engineers, not MBAs. Those engineers BUILT THINGS, rather than focusing on large profits.

    We need that BACK.
    Im hoping that Boeing and L-Mart will soon enough realize that they need to replace the trash that is in their upper execs.