NASA’s Commercial Cargo & Crew Spending

Dragon spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: NASA)

In announcing its plan to send two people around the moon using the Falcon Heavy and Dragon 2 in 2018 before NASA can do so using its own rocket and spaceship, SpaceX paid tribute to the space agency that has funded its rise.

“Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible,” SpaceX said in a statement. “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission.”

NASA funding has been behind Elon Musk’s company every step of the way as SpaceX has developed Dragon and the Falcon 9 booster upon which the Falcon Heavy is based. So, no NASA and, in all likelihood, no SpaceX.

Just how much support has NASA provided these efforts? Try $7.2 billion in development and mission contracts. The table below shows funding for the space agency’s commercial cargo and crew programs.

Sources: The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2017, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and NASA Commercial Crew Program: Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events, GAO Report 17-137

SpaceX’s funding has come through three programs: Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), Commercial Resupply Services (CRS), and the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The contracts for the programs total $16.36 billion.

CCP has included four major rounds of funding — Commercial Crew Development (CCDev), Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2), Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap) and Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap). NASA also awarded certification products contracts (CPCs) to Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Under COTS, NASA paid $396 million to SpaceX to develop the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon spacecraft as part of a public-private partnership. SpaceX contributed even more of its own funds toward development of these vehicles.

COTS was followed by a series of resupply contracts that have totaled $3.7 billion. Under CRS-1, NASA originally contracted for 12 flights at a cost of $1.6 billion. It later added five more missions to the contract for $1.2 billion. The CRS-2 contract calls for a minimum of six flights at $900 million, with the likelihood of additional orders.

The space agency is paying $3.125 billion to SpaceX for the development and initial flights of the upgraded Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA is paying the majority of the development funding; it’s unclear how much SpaceX is contributing to the partnership.

Rival Boeing has received $4.8 billion from NASA for development and initial flights of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft under the commercial crew program. Starliner’s initial orbital test without a crew is set for 2018.

Orbital ATK has been awarded $4 billion in development funding and ISS resupply contracts under the COTS, CRS-1 and CRS-2 programs. The company developed the Antares booster and the Cygnus supply ship under the COTS program.

Sierra Nevada Corporation was contracted to receive $363.1 million in contracts to develop its Dream Chaser shuttle before it was cut from the final round of the commercial crew program. The company has received a resupply contract of undisclosed value for at least six Dream Chaser missions to ISS, with the possibility of additional orders.

Both Sierra Nevada and Boeing plan to use United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V booster. ULA received $6.7 million to human rate the launch vehicle.

Blue Origin received $25.7 million during the first two funding rounds of commercial crew to work on an abort system. The company has continued working with NASA on various systems under unfunded Space Act Agreements. The agreements require each side to pay for its costs in the collaboration.

Paragon Space Development Corporation received $1.7 million under the first round of commercial crew to develop a life support system.

  • I would like to see the public-private programs extended to establishing a cis-lunar transportation to the lunar surface for both cargo and crew.

  • With SpaceX, NASA will get access to hardware and services beyond what their funding was intended for. Partial reusability and Falcon Heavy in particular are features which went beyond just serving the ISS and could both prove useful as part of our national space program going forward. Blue Origin is potentially even greater in this respect in that NASA has invested peanuts into that company and yet here they are developing a family of rockets and looking at the capability of lunar surface cargo deliveries.

  • Chris

    Wait a second. You’re summing engineering/development contracts and actual mission flights for SpaceX, Orbital and SNC. but only including development contracts for ULA. I don’t know if Boeing has any launch related contracts. You should either include all of the flight missions paid for by NASA, or limit the table to development contracts/flight certifications (strip out the CRS contracts). When you do that, Boeing gets 4.8, SpaceX get’s 3.54, Orbital gets 2.1, and SNC gets .36. Still a useful table.

  • Jeff2Space

    Sum that all up and compare it to the money spent on Ares/CEV plus SLS/Orion.

    I’d say it’s time to start up a “commercial HLV” program. 😉

  • Jeff2Space

    Absolutely. But to do that, you’d have to free up the money to do so by killing SLS/Orion.

  • Saturn13

    DC cargo is wild. A cargo module is added to the tail. It has solar panels on it. DC will carry 12,000lbs to ISS and weighs a total of 20 tons. 5 SRM on Atlas to launch. Sounds expensive, but about 2x cargo as Cygnus and Dragon. Paid to burn trash. There total in CRS2 was less than SpaceX. I hope that this module was included in the proposal. So not much in DC itself. Most in module.

  • windbourne

    Interesting.
    U charge spacex for flying missions for NASA, but nothing for ULA?

    Sorry Doug, but in a way, this is looking a lot like the la times job.
    U really can not include R&D funding with missions.

  • windbourne

    Actually, just seperate the contracts from R&D.
    But, the ula contracts should also be shown.
    One thing that is not apparent in this, is that spacex is saving money vs old space.

  • JamesG

    Don’t forget all the other money SpaceX (and most of the others) got from other USAF and NASA contracts, grants, and other money-for-doing-what-they-were-gonna-do-anyway, that paid for various propulsion, guidance, and misc. that were encorporated into the vehicles now servicing the CC contracts.

    Calling any of these “private spacecraft” is a bit of a stretch. All of them were paid for and only exist because of government.

  • windbourne

    In fact, it is new private space that will make moon base and Mars colony possible. Old space is too expensive.

  • JamesG

    Well since Big B hasn’t actually flown any flights, and might never as long as they can keep billing NASA and “borrowing” Soyuz seats instead.

  • Isn’t that NASA’s job? To fund the contractors? No, wait …

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Or the vendors can self-fund their R&D, like Blue Origin is doing, and just charge NASA for the service. When the government pays for development AND then a separate procurement contract, it starts to smell more and more like a F-35 type program.

  • windbourne

    Would be interesting to put numbers on SLS up there as well.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…and Dragon. Paid to burn trash.”
    This is new.

    How much this vehicles can lift in one go is less important than how much it costs per kg up, and in some cases, down. If DC can be competitive on price per kg, then you have a point….but can it?.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Sounds like a plan, when do we get started?

  • windbourne

    They do not need to kill SLS/Orion. Just quit developing it on NASA money.

  • windbourne

    Blue origin AND spacex have been self funding on hlv/SHLV.

  • Jeff2Space

    You’re ignoring the fact that DOD isn’t interested. They went down that road with the space shuttle, and it cost them *dearly*. They will not make that same mistake again.

  • Jeff2Space

    But if NASA is going to be the only customer for this massive HLV, they’re going to have to pony up some of the development money. That’s the reason they funded both commercial cargo and commercial crew development. It was clear that the industry would not do this on their own, and NASA would not have wanted to use them without a sufficient level of NASA oversight.

  • Jeff2Space

    And Orion. And while you’re at it, include Ares and CEV as well since a lot of the work on them fed directly into SLS/Orion.

  • Jeff2Space

    I believe that the money to fly a mission goes to Boeing (CST-100) and then Boeing pays ULA for the Atlas V launch.

  • Jeff2Space

    I’m guessing return cargo comes home on DC while “trash” burns up with that cargo module. Dragon’s “trunk” and the entire Cygnus vehicle also burns up on reentry, so “trash” can be disposed of using them as well.

  • Jeff2Space

    Possibly. The devil is in the details. If DC can be reused without much in the way of refurbishment and if that disposable cargo module is relatively inexpensive to manufacture then they have a shot at being competitive on price.

    The other thing that comes into play are the “wheels on the runway” people inside NASA. Not everyone believes that vertical landing via rocket engines is the “way forward”. Time will tell and competition is a good thing!

  • Jeff2Space

    Falcon Heavy is arguably not “big enough” to be considered HLV by NASA, so they have a long way to go before they have an HLV that NASA claims they “need”.

    Same with Blue Origin. I’m not sure New Glenn is “big enough” either.

    Of course “You can’t always get what you want , But if you try sometimes well you might find, You get what you need” with this Administration, if the song they played at every rally is an indication.

  • windbourne

    Sure but what about the nasa missions that does not involve iss?
    It makes little sense to lump these mission contracts ( which come from ISS funds ), with R&D money which is fully seperate.

  • Did SLS/Orion have to be killed to have our current, major, public-private programs? No. However, given the current committments, something has to give or the budget would have to increase about 7%.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    The biggest cost headache for DC is launch. Dragon 2 will benefit (fairly soon) from much a lower cost reusable launcher and then there will be BFS. I get the impression from what little detail SNC have given that there will be a cost for DC heatshield replacement after each flight. Again, the significance of that cost won’t be fully felt until reusable launchers show us what the price of launch really can and should be.

    “…the “wheels on the runway” people …Not everyone believes that vertical landing via rocket engines is the “way forward”.”
    I agree, the horizontal/vertical dilemma remains…for now. I thinking the correct answer will not present itself until we get to BFS sized orbital passenger ferries, carrying 100 or even 200+. Though even with a cost advantaged “747”, there’s always a place for a “Learjet”.

  • Douglas Messier

    It’s a good point. I would have included more data on ULA if it were available. I don’t know what part of Boeing’s award goes to ULA for Atlas V launches. Nor is it clear what SNC’s contract is worth for its six resupply missions.

    The matter is more complicated because the CCtCap contracts include both demo missions and initial orders for crew flights.

  • Jeff2Space

    My bet is on VTVL because it scales up nicely and is also a viable landing mode on both the moon and Mars.

  • Jeff2Space

    Agreed. But I think that NASA funding will not be off the chopping block in order to “balance” the funding increase for DOD that the current Administration is pushing.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    spot on mate

  • Douglas Messier

    The focus was on commercial crew and cargo. Hence the article title. How much NASA spent and who got what. It would have become pretty unwieldy if I had gotten into all SpaceX and ULA contracts, how much of ULA’s operations are subsidized by DOD, etc. Very complicated subject beyond the scope of the piece.

    In any event, I should have explained that it’s unclear how much ULA will be receiving from SNC and Boeing aunch contracts under commercial crew and cargo. The figures don’t exist publicly. The CCtCap contracts include both development and initial commercial flights for SpaceX and Boeing. Unlike earlier contract rounds, the public documents do not state the value of milestone payments.

  • windbourne

    why? This has nothing to do with DOD.
    In my case, I am suggesting that NASA stops advanced development on SLS and instead turn it on over to the companies that are involved. Let them take ownership of SLS and then they can bid for taking loads to the moon, space stations, etc. In addition, they can choose to bump up the SLS to say 130 tonnes or keep it at 70 tonnes.

    IOW, make the SLS private.

  • windbourne

    personally, I am a fan of the VTHL for earth, but, as you said, viable landing for moon and mars.
    DC is a PURE earth, though maybe Venus, etc might be interesting.
    Still, VTVL is the only way to go for going to all planets, moons, etc.

  • Unfortunately there is nothing useful to salvage anymore besides a preemptive lunar landing on its first and only test flight. There is no there there anymore, sorry. Maybe in 1990, but certainly not in 2020 after all of this.

  • Jeff2Space

    So NASA paid for the bulk of development then lets them bid against other providers that didn’t have that luxury? I don’t think so Tim…

  • windbourne

    odd.
    FH is 54 tonnes with block C. Block E is supposed to be last one, and supposed to jump F9 and FH up a good 20-30%.
    If that is true, then FH will take up more than today’s SLS, which is considered an HLV at 70 tonnes.

  • windbourne

    why not?
    SpaceX had major support. ATK got major support.
    THe ONLY company that really did not was BO, and I doubt that he cares.

    More importantly, by moving the 70 tonne SLS to private space, and allowing REAL competition between SpaceX, BO, and SLS, it would be using the funds that would have gone into developing SLS further.
    Now, NASA just has to focus on getting mission parms and let other bid for it.

  • Tom Billings

    Now you’re asking people to make numbers work, where Congress wants numbers to hide their influence from everyone but their own voters. The SLS being privatized, even if it made it to market, is as big a disaster for the political clout of the SLS/Orion coalition as cancellation would be. Its design specification by Congress guaranteed money would keep being spent as it always was. I expect SLS to finally die only after FH, New Glenn, and ITS are all flying, …and maybe even New Armstrong.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I do agree that in the solar system Earth is a special case, and so it is likely that in due course orbital ferries will be specialised to the one job of operating to and from Earth orbit. For now, and for some decades to come, vertical landing makes sense because it does transfer to bodies other than Earth. For now, horizontal landing makes sense, because the passenger vehicles are small. When those orbital passenger vehicles get large (as in BFS large and even larger), the mass of VTHL vehicles doesn’t scale so well.

  • Jeff2Space

    You’re referencing LEO numbers. Falcon Heavy does not have a “high energy” upper stage like SLS will have. So, it’s “beyond LEO” payload capacity is less than that of other “beyond LEO” launch vehicles of similar size that do have “high energy” upper stages.

    And by “high energy” that typically means something with a very high ISP (e.g. LOX/LH2).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_impulse

  • duheagle

    Pretty good story anyway. The numbers certainly show SpaceX to be the overall low cost provider.

    One quibble. I think SpaceX’s total CSR-1 obligation is now for 20 total missions. I seem to recall an initial extension of three missions to the original 12 and then a second extension of five more about a year later.

  • duheagle

    I’m no cheerleader for Boeing, but that’s a bit unfair. The missions flown to-date have all been cargo and Boeing isn’t a player in the cargo program. The company gave CRS-1 a complete pass and didn’t win a contract for its CRS-2 proposal. True, it hasn’t launched any people yet – something for which it does have a contract – but neither has SpaceX. Both are late due to chronic program underfunding for CCP by Congress in its early years.

  • duheagle

    Not sure that’s strictly a requirement, but it would certainly be a nice-to-have.

  • duheagle

    With benefit of two additional day’s hindsight, it now seems that zeroing out NASA’s bogus “climate science” program probably would have provided enough margin to support such a new initiative without needing to axe SLS-Orion. That doesn’t seem to be what was actually done with the money thus freed up, but that’s another story.

  • duheagle

    Agree on the salvage question, but there’s no lunar landing slated as part of any prospective SLS-Orion mission. SLS could have been engineered to be reusable and potentially competitive with upcoming New Space offerings, but it’s probably way too late for that now. Given their corporate cultures and unimpressive management, I don’t see either Boeing or Lockheed retaining the least bit of interest in either SLS or Orion absent the cost-plus NASA contracts currently in force.

  • Jeff2Space

    Failing “a miracle happened” type of funding increase for NASA, where else are you going to free up that kind of money?