Update on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders gave an update to the NASA Advisory Council on Monday.

SpaceX is making progress on its Dragon 2 crew vehicle.

Two Dragon flight tests — one with a crew, the other without — are set to fly to the International Space Station.

The system would then undergo certification to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis.

Boeing is working on the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

Starliner will fly aboard an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V.

Like Dragon, the Starliner will carry four astronauts on a standard mission but could carry as many as seven.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are set to conduct their flights tests this year, although there is a strong possibility both could slip into 2019.

  • The race to be first is on!

    But is being first really that important? Will the market come down to on-time launches, safety and finding commercial customers? Probably.

  • Eric Thiel

    Will they actually meet these dates or will it slip a little?

  • Kirk

    Eric Berger says slip. I’ve not yet listened to the CCP update audio, but he tweeted “So after the commercial crew briefing at the NASA advisory council, it
    seems clear that Kathy Lueders has low confidence in crew flights this
    year. (Which we’ve been reporting for awhile).”

    In the replies he said that he thought there was only a 50-50 chance that either provider would complete their uncrewed test flight this year!

  • Kirk

    Falcon 9 core 1051 for the uncrewed demo mission (revealed in 4th slide) will be the sixth Block 5 built. The first, 1046, has completed its hot fire testing in McGregor and should be shipped to the Cape soon for the late April Bangabandhu mission.

  • SamuelRoman13

    At last some details. Is the SpaceX fire suppression like Amos for the kerosene burning? Looks like good progress. How are the SRB doing? Made, shipped? Was ULA design approved? it says it was reviewed.

  • Michael Halpern

    Assuming no problems are found with Block 5, i would give a high chance of uncrewed Dragon demo, SpaceX has more recent relevant experience, Boeing has stated they want to choose their demo crew 12 months prior to crew demo, they have yet to do so,

  • Michael Halpern

    6th block 5, so they are going on the assumption that they are counting flight proven as a configuration

  • Aerospike

    Yeah my gut feeling is we will see both Boeing and SpaceX perform their uncrewed test flights this year (I guess SpX will slip to mid summer and Boeing towards Q4), but both crewed missions will slip into early 2019.

  • Michael Halpern

    Uncrewed Demo for both are in August now. However SpX was the more recent to slip, but it was a 5 month slip, under half a year so we can be confident it will be around there, Boeing from what i have heard is highly suspected to slip again.
    With these things it’s best to guess based on length of most recent delay.

  • Obediah Headstrong

    Crewed missions? Count +1 year.

  • Kirk

    That’s for the uncrewed DM-1. I’ve not heard if a reflight would count toward the requirement of seven Block 5 flights before a crewed flight, but with four months scheduled between DM-1 and DM-2, there should be time to produce a few more cores, and with their active schedule they should be able to meet the requirement either way barring trouble.

    The second flight of Falcon Heavy is scheduled for July, and it will be all Block 5. The side boosters will presumably be flight proven, but the center core will be a first flight. I don’t know if the center core, given its differences, counts towards NASA’s requirement either.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    If the current schedules keep, then the “race” will be a tie. Becoming operational a matter of months apart, is not a “win” for either party. NASA will surely want to present a picture of schedule and operational equality or risk accusations of project mismanagement.
    Is “on-time” launches is even a thing – it’s either safe to launch or its not – if it is safe, you launch “on-time”, if it’s not safe, you delay and launch “on-time” at a later date.
    Safety is a given prerequisite – a human space flight/launch system that is not safe is not a human space flight/launch system.
    “finding commercial customers” is more interesting – for the lifetime of the Dragon 2 and Starliner projects the possible commercial customer destinations are going to be limited to: ISS, LEO “joyride” tourism, some as yet non-existent other LEO hab (presently Bigelow looks to be the front-runner/only-likely-option in this category). Though we might fairly assume that seats on Dragon will be significantly cheaper than Starliner, it is plausible that a destination does appear in the next few years owned by Bigelow, ideology may trump price, and Bigelow could opt to do business with Boeing over SpaceX.

    The elephant in the room for Starliner and Dragon 2 “commercial” operations is BFR. Can we believe that BFR development will take much beyond 2025?. Quite plausibly sooner, which gives these capsules a lifetime in history of only about 5 years (10 years max.?). It is far from certain that there will even be any commercial opportunities before these capsules become technically and financially obsolete?. As such, there may not be a “market” for this generation of vehicles?.

  • Jeff2Space

    Being first gives you bragging rights. Competition is a good thing. If there were only one provider, where is the motivation to launch sooner? If the contract is fixed price, flying sooner might mean more profits. But if the contract is cost plus, flying later means more profits.

  • Jeff2Space

    NASA is already hinting that they may not have the resources to certify the commercial crew capsules for a manned flight test at the end of this year. So any slippage might not be the fault of the providers.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And also how NASA will count reflights of the same booster. Could you achieve their “certification” if you fly the same booster 7 times and then launch the crew Dragon2 on it?

  • duheagle

    Given that the story is about Commercial Crew, the fire suppression referred to is, one presumes, for use inside the pressurized volume of Dragon 2. Exactly how one would realistically go about “suppressing” a fire like that which consumed Amos-6 I have no idea. SpaceX has wisely chosen to fix the cause of said fire and avoid future repetitions rather than pursue some impossible system of “suppression.”

  • redneck

    Gotta bring CC up to SLS standards right?

  • windbourne

    The real issue is getting a private habitat up to ISS asap. Once there is one, they can outfit it and, if it is ba330, add an.extra seven ppl to the ISS for 13 ( 6 for ba330 and 7th for ISS ). At that time, it will be possible to run more crew and cargo launch. That is probably the most important issue for private space stations AND private manned launchers.

  • windbourne

    Bigelow has said repeatedly that he wants multiple providers (smart ). Going to just Boeing would probably cause NASA to flip ISS access just to SX ( and at lower costs ) and perhaps SNC. Keep in mind that NASA wants 2-3 manned and cargo systems so that we never lose access again.