Kathy Lueders Talks Commercial Crew, Tech Transfer on Steroids

Kathryn Lueders

Commercial Crew Manager Kathy Lueders recently appeared on “Houston We Have a Podcast”, which is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. The program was published on the space agency’s on June 15.

You can listen to the full podcast and read a transcript of the interview here. Below are key excepts from the conversation.

Progress on Commercial Crew

Kathy Lueders: They have their — spacecraft is really, really cool right now. I can’t tell you– go out to SpaceX, you see spacecraft in the building, one– our DM1 vehicle’s getting ready to roll out to go to Plum Brook in a week and a half. [Editor’s note: DM-1 is now undergoing tests at Plum Brook.]

You go over into the C3PF down in Florida and the Boeing spacecraft, you get C3 spacecraft, the Spacecraft 1’s getting ready to get shipped out to go support pad abort test. Spacecraft 2’s getting ready to get shipped to California to go through environmental testing and that will eventually come back and become our first crewed flight test vehicle. And Spacecraft 3 is getting assembled and will be getting ready to fly later this year.

So, it’s– we have– it’s really, really cool. We have six spacecraft in different stages of construction and really final integration and testing right now to support all the critical system-level tests, but also for the demonstration test.

Flight Schedule

Crew Dragon undergoes tests at Plum Brook. (Credit: SpaceX)

Now, we are– they’re both getting ready for their uncrewed demonstrations and they’re both shooting for this fall for the uncrewed demonstrations. And then, within three of four months, both of them are planning to fly their crewed demonstration missions after the uncrewed demonstration missions…

One of the things we just did a few months ago was we just added the capability contractually for Boeing to be able to– if everything goes well on their orbital flight– their uncrewed flight test– for them to be able to potentially stay up longer for their crewed flight test.

What that does is it gives them — it gives us potential additional capability, but then it also lets them have if they need more time to then get their orbital flight test vehicle back, they use that vehicle again, so it gives them more time to then be able to refurbish that vehicle and get that vehicle ready for then their first post-certification mission. Which right now is in the 2019 — late 2019, early 2020 timeframe.

CST-100 Starliner and Dragon Capabilities

Inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a technician works on one of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

[Boeing] actually have proposed a fifth seat, so we have a fifth seat capability. We right now are focused on kind of optimizing it for our mission, which is the four seat and the cargo for that, but they actually proposed a fifth seat.

And then the SpaceX, we’re working a four-seat with all our cargo complement, but they actually also advertised seven, commercially. So, it’s always– you can go– what’s really cool, you can go on websites and see what commercially they’re offering and then we can, you know, we’ve kind of optimized for our mission certain cargo complements, certain crew complements that kind of support the station mission.

On Human-rating Atlas V and Falcon 9

There is a lot of extra work. You know — and, you know, both– like always, the two companies have kind of taken it a little bit different route. Really with Atlas V they’ve gone — really they have their proven reliability, they’ve been doing their systems a certain way, and so we’ve been really working with them on working through all the certifications and understanding and building off of really what the Air Force folks have already done and our own NASA Launch Services Program folks have been doing to go make sure that all the human rating requirements that we need for crew launches– that they’re still meeting them.

And the SpaceX folks, they’ve been doing a major upgrade for their Block 5 upgrade and as part of that they’ve added — they chose to add some additional redundancy in parts of their vehicle to be able to fly crew.

“Tech Transfer on Steroids”

I kind of view the Commercial Crew Program as like tech transfer on steroids. That’s how I kind of view it, right? Because we have really been like the conduit for providing, you know, the 50 years of NASA human spaceflight experience to both these companies. And allowing them to have that is really the great thing about NASA going and doing this exploration– I mean we are still using the data off of the early manned flights.

You know, Apollo has been a wealth of experience for both these companies and all the chute testing and all the tests that they did, you know, amazing amount of experience. So, as we’re doing these missions, you just don’t know that 30, 40 years that that data is still relevant and helpful for us to then be able to then– for these companies, it would have been cost-prohibitive for them to have been able to go and replicate all the data and what we learned out of doing those, you know, early human spaceflight missions with the capsule designs. I mean they really, really learned from that….

There’s definitely been a lot of digging and pulling data and pulling everything. You know, the companies will come in and say, hey, we’re having this kind of a problem and having people that have been out there and have learned and said, hey, I had that problem, you know, this is what we did, but most importantly,

On Commercial Crew Requirements

NASA astronaut Suni Williams in a Crew Dragon simulator.

We tried not to have requirements that were prescriptive, but what we wanted to make sure is that the systems that they had in place controlled the hazards that were — that the vehicles expose the crew to. And that they had the necessary hazard controls in place for us to be able to put crews on their vehicles. And so, really, this has been a kind of an arduous process with the providers is that you don’t typically have to do that for the payloads.

But, for crew, we’ve had to go through a safety review process with both companies where we’re going through, OK, how do you get ready for launch, how do you process a vehicle, and then how are you making sure that– and that you’re listing all of the hazards that are involved….

We’ve gone through kind of an extensive process where they’ve listed their hazards and then what are all their controls and then how are we going to verify those controls. That’s been probably the biggest part of our requirements. That is, really making sure that they have controls for their hazards in place.

With human rating requirements, we have a list of standards that engineering or SNMA have come in and said for them to be human rated you have to show compliance to those standards, to the human standards. But– so this has been a big challenge for the program because, one, we don’t really want– we would like to have their standards really– them be able to operate to their standards.

We don’t want a special group of standards because we would really like– if they’ve been flying reliably, it would be good to continue processing in that way. So, the big challenge that the program’s had is going and comparing the commercial provider standards to our standards and saying do these meet the intent. And maybe there’s been a few small focused areas where we’ve had to work with the providers on, but overall I think both providers have had– have had good standards, good processes, and been able to work it.

Approach and Docking with ISS

Dragon 2 docks with the International Space Station.

So, I think both of them are fairly autonomous. If you think about it, it kind of goes back to once again the commercial concept. Right? If you’re a company that wants to have control over how your vehicle is operating and with the capabilities they have today, with computer– the processing capability and everything else– they’re really developing very sophisticated autonomous rendezvous and docking and reentry capabilities.

And so, really crew is there as a monitoring function and back up in case some– like something really goes wrong, but these, they’re really– both companies are designing their spacecraft to be two-fault tolerant to a failure. All along the way. Very robust, which is really our intent. We wanted to have very robust vehicles. Right? Very robust vehicles. We asked them to design their vehicles to be two-fault tolerant and to not have crew as a control. So, we– that was a– kind of goes back to safe and reliability being kind of important tenets and the companies have really come through.

They have different strategies for how they do that and they’ll be checking out that autonomous capability on their first demonstrations because they’ll be uncrewed [phonetic]. They’ll be uncrewed demonstrations to the ISS, so that will kind of prove out that autonomous capability.

I always tell people I’m– I know we’ve got self-driving cars out there, but I’m really hoping that before they roll out their first commercial one, the first commercial self-driving crew vehicle that’s being bought by the government is going to be a crew transportation vehicle that’s going to the ISS and so–

Reentry & Landing

The Boeing Starliner program has performed more than 20 landing tests to determine how the vehicle would fare on land. (Credits: NASA / Dave Bowman)

Boeing is going to be landing on the western part, they have five landing sites on the western part of the United States. Kind of ranges from California– you know, all your, like, the Dugway, Wismer [assumed spelling], all the, you know, the open desert kind of areas.

And then SpaceX is going to be– they’re looking at two water landing sites near the– off the Florida coast on both sides of the Florida coast, and so kind of trying to give themselves kind of as many options as possible. Primary is off the east coast of Florida right now.

Other Missions in Addition to ISS Crew Rotation

We’ll see what other kinds of missions. You know, we’re in the process right now of understanding how do we commercially use the space station and so we already are working with both providers on maybe they have other passengers or other missions or other things that they’re working on proposing and so we’re really hoping that, through us using these folks, that that then will jumpstart– potentially jumpstart their use by other providers. And then kind of, you know, provide a platform for other commercial and research and other uses in low-Earth orbit….

I always tell people, space is not for– just for– is not just for NASA anymore. Space is not just for NASA anymore. It is for all of us. It is for every American. It is for you. It is for my children.  It is for all of us. It’s just not there for somebody with a gold badge.

  • envy

    So: uncrewed demos “this fall”
    crewed test flights “3 to 4 months after that”
    first Boeing post-cert mission “late 2019/early 2020”

  • That’s what it sounds like!

  • Kirk

    Other sites are reporting that “this fall’s” uncrewed demos are most likely to fly in December or January, at the earliest.

    Also, SpaceX won’t be debuting their COPD 2.0 (upgraded, NASA certified Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel) until that demo flight, and they need seven Block 5 Falcon 9 flights with the new COPV before a crewed flight.

  • ThomasLMatula

    More and more it is looking like a photo finished between Dragon2 and BFR 🙂

  • windbourne

    what sites are claiming that spacex’s uncrewed will be in dec/jan?
    All that I have seen say SpaceX in Sept., while Boeing will be Dec/Jan. at the earliest.

    BTW, block 5 would be better with pressure vessels than with pulmonary disease.

  • Michael Halpern

    All signs are Sx DM-1 is on track for August or September, based on timing of LOX load the first Block 5 flew with a COPV 2.0 iteration perhaps a version from before manufacturing process was finalized,

  • Michael Halpern

    plus based on people noting the LOX load timing of the first block 5, makes one suspect that was flying a pre-finalized version of COPV 2.0

  • Kirk

    Detailed response awaiting moderation. (Do two links trigger that?)

  • Kirk

    There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the LOX load timing, though I’ve not seen any consensus around it.

    Regarding SpX-DM1, nearly all sources I’m following suggest that an August or September launch is totally out of the question. (I’ll eat a SpaceX hat if they pull that off — grinning widely while doing so — and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they make December. I expect 2019-Q1.)

  • Kirk

    I’d be thrilled to see a photo of a complete BFS prototype by the time Dragon2 finishes its first operational mission.

  • Michael Halpern

    The vehicle is at Plum Brook for basically the last pre-flight test you do, thermal vacuum chamber. DM 1 doesn’t need the 7 flights

  • Kirk

    Correct, the 7 flights are required prior to DM2. The recent news is that NASA approved COPVs will not be flying until DM1, so that will be the first of the seven. Still, with SpaceX’s launch cadence, they shouldn’t have much difficulty getting in six other flights during the three to four months (per Kathy Lueders) separating DM1 & DM2.

    A more detailed comment (with links) regarding the August date is awaiting moderation above, but the gist is that, as Kirk Shireman said at the CRS-15 pre-launch press conference, these dates are only target dates set by the companies and are not realistic launch dates agreed with by NASA, that NASA doesn’t even have enough information yet to set a realistic launch date, and that they hope to have that information soon so that they can announce some realistic dates. Also, other sources are pointing to December/January for SpX-DM1, with Eric Berger (who seems to have his finger on the pulse here) saying that there is only a 50-50 chance that there will be a unmanned Commercial Crew test flight by either vendor this year.

  • Michael Halpern

    Scheduling concerns are solvable

  • Michael Halpern

    no it was probably the specific links you used

  • envy

    DM-1 is known to be using booster 1051. 1047 is likely at the Cape for Telestar 19, and Matt Desch reported that the booster for Iridium Next Flight 7 (likely 1048) is at VAFB. 1049 is reportedly done testing at McGregor already, presumably for Merah Putih on 8/2, since 1046 was suppoed to be torn apart, and there’s no way 1047 or 1048 would do a 2-week turnaround for the first Block 5 reflight. 1050 should be headed to McGregor any day now, and will likely launch Telestar 18 on 8/17.

    So SpaceX will run out of new boosters by 8/17, and Iridium 8 and GPS III-1 both require new boosters in September and October. So either DM-1 will launch in September (with Iridium 8 and GPS III pushed back), or 1052 will get pulled ahead of 1051 and presumably be the first COPV 2.0-equipped booster to fly. Possibly 1053 as well.

    Also interesting is whether DM-1 will take priority over FH flights for STP-2 (November) and Arabsat (January). Both DM-1 and the FH flights have to fly out of 39A.

  • Michael Halpern

    Regarding LOX load timing, we know that it wasn’t the old COPV, because loading that quickly and late contributed to the Amos-6 anomaly.
    We also know from the press briefing, Elon believed it was flying COPV 2.0 and would count towards the 7 flights
    We know that for whatever reason it didn’t count towards the 7.

    This means it’s either a pre finalized version of the copv, using iconnel spheres or its the same copv v2 just made before NASA certified the pressure vessel. I believe either the first or third possibilities are the most likely.

    It is important to remember however, other than perhaps the in flight abort test, all future launches of Falcon 9 vehicles are block 5.

    While for other medium to heavy lift LVs 7 flights is a good year, depending on payload readiness, that’s easily done in 2.5 to 3 months, with pre-block 5 vehicles, provided a few used ones in stock, with Block 5, seeing as its hard to imagine upper stages as a bottle neck, they’ll be able to fly whenever they have payloads, provided the range is available.

    Back to DM-1, August or September based on where they are at now is reasonable, basically they need to figure out when IDA-2 is available

  • envy

    Definitely not the inconel sphere option. It was probably a early version of COPV 2.0 that met SpaceX’s requirements but wasn’t complete to NASA’s crew flight requirements.

  • Michael Halpern

    5 pre cert COPV block 5s? I suspect they will either be used as side boosters or wait till after the 7 flights for their reflights,

    As for Iridium, remember their decision to go with a new booster for Iridium 8 is because of uncertainty of the availability of used boosters. If a used one is available i don’t doubt they would be willing to take it.

  • envy

    ISS planning docs apparently indicate the Dec-Jan timeframe for both initial demos. Eric is pretty well connected with NASA and he’s likely correct on that.

  • Michael Halpern

    Or one that meets the requirements but was built before NASA signed off on it or they finalized the production process

  • envy

    Well, we know that 1051 the DM-1 booster will count towards the 7, and that 1046 did not. We don’t really know if 1047-1050 do or not. Could be either way at this point.

    Iridium 8 is supposed to be late September, which is probably enough time to turn either 1057 or 1048 around. But if NASA is asking SpaceX to fly new COPV-2.0 boosters, and 1052 is such a booster, then Iridium probably wouldn’t object to using it.

  • envy

    Hopefully we’ll see both by Q3 2019

  • Michael Halpern

    Still if DM-1 Dragon is ready i don’t doubt they will try to squeeze it in earlier, maybe swap places with a CRS mission, Obviously swapping with SX-CRS-16 is likely a no go, IDA-3 being the reason,

  • Michael Halpern

    I suspect with Commercial Crew management trying to avoid giving crew launches a special set of requirements if the vehicles are already flying reliably outside of what specifically relates to crew, they will be fine with reused boosters, in a sense it is more valuable that way, as they can verify safety in theoretically fatigued hardware.

  • envy

    CRS-17 isn’t until around March, though. Plus, as far as I know there’s no conflict between CRS and commercial crew, since they don’t use the same facilities on ISS. Both could occur simultaneously.

    Even CRS-16 isn’t until November. And IIRC IDA-3 isn’t needed until the operational crew missions start, since the demos will only be there for a short time so IDA-2 is sufficient.

  • Michael Halpern

    And significant progress on the booster processing/ flight management center in Florida as well as starlink production,

  • Michael Halpern

    So in other words, they just need to find supplies to use as mass simulator for DM-1.

    So it really shouldn’t be a problem getting the demo mission scheduled earlier

  • Kirk

    One link was to this recording which includes the CRS-15 pre-launch news conference, starting at 01:12:00. The Q&A portion, starting at 01:26:00, leads off with a testy regarding the schedule.

  • Michael Halpern

    Having not seen your comment, there could have been a key word in there, not intended in any bad way, that triggered an automatic alert, thats happened to me a couple times,

  • Kenneth_Brown

    That article was really hard to make sense of. Doug, you should have paraphrased instead of copying the talk verbatim.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Go Go go RGO

  • Kirk

    My other link was to this recent BI interview of Suni Williams in which she says that crew assignments have not been made for the crewed test flights, that they are expected this summer, and about a year of training will follow between assignment and the mission. This is consistent with early 2019 uncrewed test flights and 3-4 months (plus some slip) between uncrewed and crewed missions.

  • Emmet Ford

    My guess is that Kathy Lueders is great at her job, but she is really bad at public speaking. Really bad.