Will Commercial Crew Come Through in 2018?


by Douglas Messier

Managing Editor

The last time Americans flew into space from U.S. soil was nearly seven years ago in July 2011. Four astronauts flew Atlantis to the International Space StationĀ  (ISS) on the 135th and final mission of the 30-year space shuttle program.

Ever since, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at an ever increasing cost that comes with having a monopoly. Meanwhile, the space agency has watched the schedules for the two commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX slide to the right year by year.

This is the year all that is supposed to change. Both companies are scheduled to fly automated and crew test flights to the space station. The question is will they?

Here’s the latest official schedule from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program:

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (no crew): April 2018
  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (no crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test: November 2018

Providing the flights go well, the vehicles would be certified to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis a couple of months after the crew tests. Commercial flights could begin by the end of the year or early 2019. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, maybe. NASA updates these schedules about once a quarter, at which point both providers usually slip a quarter or so. And this schedule hasn’t been updated in a while.

There is some indication that the flight tests have already slipped. Spaceflight101 reports that NASA’s ISS schedule indicates the following:

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (no crew): August 2018
  • Space Demonstration Mission 2 (crew): No Earlier Than December 2018
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (no crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test: No Earlier Than December 2018

We’ll see what happens. Time is of the essence. NASA has only purchased seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft through mid-2019. Any further slips would come ever closer to that deadline.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yeah no orion capsule and no one wanting to fund it SLS isn’t commercial congress has to sign off on funding, you can’t just buy a SLS launch unlike F9, FH or New Glenn

  • Michael Halpern

    Reuse sufffers less payload penalty the bigger you get in addition just because individual satellites are getting smaller doesn’t mean that the payloads get smaller, for instance companies often launch several satellites on a single launch now

  • Michael Halpern

    Yeah no orion capsule and CONGRESS not wanting to pay for it, SLS doesn’t have customers, FH does

  • Grey Area

    Name a customer

  • Michael Halpern

    NASA, USAF, Arabsat, 2 rich unidentified tourists, any mission they would otherwise have to use single stick in expendable for,

  • Michael Halpern

    Nasa usaf arabsat, 2 unidentified rich people and any mission they currently have to use expendable f9 for and they had 3 of those in 2017.

  • Robert G. Oler

    stage 2 the insertion stage is always going to be very very difficult to reuse

  • windbourne

    Google boys invested $1B for SATs.
    Trump says we are going to the moon, but does allocate big bucks for it.

    once these start going up, investors will beg to invest into BFR and anything he touches.

  • windbourne

    Really? The F9 is unable to compete without a raptor upper stage? Who has a lower cost to Leo or Geo?

  • windbourne

    Why do u think he needs so much?
    Merlin is almost ready.
    Tanks are being developed.
    Avionics/sensors is already developed.
    When remains is the frame which is the cheap part.

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is about the development cost for something this complex. go look at the B777 and the 787

  • Michael Halpern

    Grey Area is too focused on ISP and what everyone other than SpaceX is doing that he is forgetting to factor in the most important number of all when it comes to market competition, price.

  • Michael Halpern

    What shuttle promised is effectively being accomplished by F9 and Dragon, BFR takes it a step further, in a system designed for full and rapid reuse, rapid reuse is what block 5 is about, and while there is talk of falcon stage 2 recovery, that is more for testing purposes and will only be viable on a few missions.
    ,

  • Michael Halpern

    Smaller satellites doesn’t mean smaller total payload, in addition things like commercial stations are looking more and more necessary for a number of industries, you are not going to deliver the modules, any crew or supplies on small launchers, in addition if I am a big company and I am building a LEO constellation, i need many satellites in the same plane and the total cost for doing it via smaller expendable vehicles is going to be more than a smaller number of larger RLVs i am going to go with RLVs. It is hard to effectively reuse small launchers, in addition there are advantages to higher orbits that small vehicles can’t reach, as well as an increasing potential demand for BEO, larger gets a better mass ratio, via cubed squared law. There is nothing a small launcher can do that a large one cant do more effectively except accommodate customers who need a small satellite in LEO at a specific orbit, quickly,

  • Michael Halpern

    Correction Raptor

  • Michael Halpern

    Except the most complex parts are already developed in F9, big does not mean complex, the number of engines with current engine control technology isn’t significantly complex, and makes throttling simpler, (BFS has 3 landing engines now instead of 2 for this reason)

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is no data to indicate that Musk can develop a system far more complex and far more “cutting edge” then Boeing can develop the Dreamliner for.

    very little of BFS is in the falcon9 because very little of it is reusable to the extent you imagine

    an illustration when the engine of the B47 was first developed…it lasted about 20 hours between overhauls. AFTER they had built nearly 2000 of them they got the number up to 400 hours…another 3000 or so got the number up to 800 to 1000 where it sat for the life of the engine. (there are numbers of cycles there as well)

    its unlikely Musk beats that

  • Michael Halpern

    Block 5 of f9 is supposed to be massively reusable, they have new technology which helps them refine reuse faster, with the B47 they didn’t have a sensor suite on each engine whenever it flew to see how it broke, nor the computers and software to interpret the data quickly, we have the tools now that we didn’t have then so you are comparing apples to oranges, sure the second stage of f9 isn’t reusable (yet) but every they launch they get loads of data to help them, f9s have 3000 various sensors on them, enabling faster data collection and refinement then was possible with jet engines in their development,

  • Michael Halpern

    With all 3000 on board sensors on each F9, the dynamic is completely different, they are getting high quality data, each and every launch, the kind that it would have taken years to gather and interpret in the 60s, you simply cant compare the 747 engine development to any modern R&D process. There is far less brute force trial and error involved, line adjustments can happen a whole lot faster. Again it isn’t a whole lot more complex in principle than what they already have, its easier to model the stresses on a completely series staged rocket than a rocket with tandem staging for instance, one of the development problems with FH was just that, reuse becomes easier and less complicated the bigger the vehicle gets, between more delta v and the aerodynamics it gets substantially simpler, your analogy comes from an era where data was expensive and sensor equipment was often bulky, when VTVL was the stuff of low budget B-rated movies, when the computing power we use in our daily lives would make government agencies drool.

  • Robert G. Oler

    we disagree see how it works out

  • Michael Halpern

    You are still comparing apples to oranges here, as data is collected on every f9 launch even when its dumped, more data per engine than a 60s era test stand could hope to collect 1/1000th of,

  • windbourne

    The BFS, or 2nd stage for going to mars, WILL be complex and will cost 5, 10, or maybe 15 B.
    The BFR is and will not. That should be fairly low costs at this time.
    For simply launching cargo to LEO, I think that SX will not go with a complex BFS.

  • Michael Halpern

    yup it’s expected the first BFS versions will mainly be sat and pressurized cargo, they will likely have on orbit refueling capability, as that is supposed to be linked into how they fuel on the pad, large crew and long duration flight come later. They might get it crew rated early on for a certain occupancy, but they simply wont need a lot of crew capacity in general for a while. P2P BFS is likely to be slightly different than primary versions, same mold line obviously, only the tanker will have a different mold line, as they transition away from Falcon and Dragon, BFR/BFS will get more and more capable,

  • Michael Halpern

    Frame and heat shield, though the heat shield is just an improved and enlarged version of what they currently use, there is also opportunities with payload integration improvements that the size enables and the fuel line connection between the stages, but none of these are particularly challenging, getting a crew rated version without a launch escape system will be difficult, but not impossible with the redundancy and flak shields between engines, and multi-engine out, to protect them from engine related problems,

  • windbourne

    Yeah, but in terms of costs, the BFR is actually mostly done. I really do not see an expensive issue with.

    It will be the different types of BFS needed for Mars. You have cargo, tanker, and crew. Not cheap.
    But for going to the mooon and doing LEO work work, all he needs is a cheap cargo carrier. For humans to the moon, BA and Ula would be smart to build tug/human carriers now so as to own that market.

  • Michael Halpern

    Well getting crew to and from orbit will likely be dominated by SX and BO, tugs are more for the companies that focus on engines.

  • Michael Halpern

    Well early on the tanker can be substituted by empty cargo/sat bfs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if limited crew and/or limited duration crew happens pretty early on, cargo could be done via a modified sat BFS possibly just by having the payload bay with the cargo and offloading equipment stowed inside, the long duration crew is going to be tricky

  • Michael Halpern

    Actually I am placing my bets on it happening September/October, maximum impact timing.