GAO: Accelerating Commercial Crew Schedule Poses Risks

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to move up the start of operational crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by Boeing and SpaceX could pose serious safety risks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).


Flight Tests to Prove Commercial Systems Fit for Human Spaceflight

Crew Dragon and Starliner at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The first test flights for new spacecraft designed by commercial companies in collaboration with NASA to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station from the United States are known as Demo-1 for SpaceX and Orbital Flight Test for Boeing.

NASA’s goal in collaborating with Boeing and SpaceX is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from station on the companies’ spacecraft. Both companies have matured their designs, are making significant progress through their extensive testing campaigns, and are headed toward flight tests to validate their systems.


Sierra Nevada Completes Dream Chaser Certification Plan Review

Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Sparks, Nev., Jan. 16, 2014 –Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) today announced the company recently completed its Certification Plan Review for the entire Dream Chaser® Space System (DCSS). This major accomplishment represents Milestone 7 under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement, the third phase of development under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to develop privately owned and operated crew vehicles to access low-Earth orbit. In passing Milestone 7, the DCSS has successfully completed one of the most critical milestones on the road to Dream Chaser full design certification and outlined how SNC would operate its first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS).


The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: A Tale of Two Human Space Programs

commercial_crew_earthAll the promise, perils and contradictions of America’s human spaceflight effort were on display earlier this week in Washington, D.C.

Things were looking good for a day or so, but then the proverbial other shoe dropped to remind everyone of the deep trouble that lies ahead as NASA attempts to restore its human spaceflight capability and send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

As NASA struggles to execute a series of ambitious programs on increasingly tight budgets, the main beneficiary appears to be the bumbling, crisis prone Russian space agency Roscosmos, which has reaped a financial windfall as a result of America’s equally bumbling human spaceflight policy. And matters could get worse before they get better (for NASA, at least).


NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Completes Two Human-Critical Reviews

Artist's conception of SpaceX's Dragon in a propulsive landing. (Credit: SpaceX)
Artist’s conception of SpaceX’s Dragon in a propulsive landing. (Credit: SpaceX)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., recently completed two milestones for NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, which is intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

These were the fifth and sixth milestones for SpaceX, a partner in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The company is on track to complete all 14 of its CCiCap milestones by mid-2014.


SNC Hires Lockheed Martin for Dream Chaser Certification, Manufacturing Work

dream_chaser_liftoff_smSPARKS, Nev., January 30, 2013 (SNC PR) – Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems is pleased to announce Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Littleton, Colo., is joining the SNC Dream Chaser® team. Lockheed Martin will be an exclusive partner to SNC on NASA’s Certification Products Contract (CPC) and has been competitively selected to build the composite structure for the Dream Chaser at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La. SNC was awarded $10 million for CPC Phase 1 to work with NASA towards government certification of the SNC Dream Chaser orbital crew transportation system.


Paragon SDC Newest Space Foundation Certification Program Partner

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 15, 2012 (Space Foundation PR) – Paragon Space Development Corporation® is now a Space Foundation Space Certification Program Partner and has been authorized to carry the Certified Space TechnologyTM seal. It is being recognized for its Modular Air Revitalization System (MARS).

Designed to be used by astronauts in the hazardous environment of space, the system’s technology has found a lifesaving use in another dangerous occupation – this time on Earth or, rather, under it – coal mining.


ULA Completes Two CCDev Milestones for Human-rating Atlas V

Artist's conception of ULA's Atlas V rocketNASA PR — One of NASA’s industry partners, United Launch Alliance (ULA), successfully completed two milestones that could eventually lead toward the certification of its Atlas V launch vehicle for human spaceflight.

In December, ULA conducted a series of detailed reviews that reflected the culmination of efforts involving technical experts and representatives from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

“ULA gave us an invaluable opportunity to get to know its Atlas V systems and subsystems through our unfunded partnership,” said Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango. “And we are happy to share our knowledge and expectations to keeping our crews safe.”


Commercial Human Spaceflight Technical Forum Successful


Special Aerospace Services, a woman-owned aerospace company committed to developing and providing innovative aerospace solutions to the aerospace industry, U.S. government agencies, Department of Defense, and the emerging commercial spaceflight sector, held its first “Commercial Human Spaceflight Technical Forum” on January 12-14 in Boulder, Colorado.


NASA Releases Commercial Crew Certification Requirements

Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

NASA has released certification requirements for commercial crew transports that will carry crews to Earth orbit. Key excerpts are below. The full document is here.

Commercial Crew Transportation System Certification Requirements
for NASA Low Earth Orbit Missions

1.0 Introduction

The Commercial Crew Transportation System (CCTS) Certification Requirements Document is a consolidated set of technical requirements, standards, and processes built upon the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) vast human spaceflight knowledge and experience. The intent of this document is to define the requirements, standards, and certification package contents that will be used to certify a CCTS to carry NASA crewmembers on Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Missions.


Commercial Human Spaceflight Technical Forum Set for January


Special Aerospace Services, a leader in aerospace systems engineering solutions, announced today that it will host its first Commercial Human Spaceflight Technical Forum on January 12-14.

The forum is being held in Boulder, Colorado, and will present a focused and concentrated technical agenda created for Commercial Human Spaceflight providers and NASA. Attendees will gain insight to techniques that will be required to successfully achieve the NASA human rating certification and FAA commercial spaceflight licensing.


GAO: NASA Needs Plan to Ensure Access to ISS Due to Commercial Crew Delays

NASA Commercial Crew Program:

Plan Needed to Ensure Uninterrupted Access to the International Space Station
Government Acc0untability Office
July 2018
Full Report


Why GAO Did This Study

In 2014, NASA awarded two firm-fixed-price contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, worth a combined total of up to $6.8 billion, to develop crew transportation systems and conduct initial missions to the ISS. In February 2017, GAO found that both contractors had made progress, but their schedules were under mounting pressure. The contractors were originally required to provide NASA all the evidence it needed to certify that their systems met its requirements by 2017. A House report accompanying H.R. 5393 included a provision for GAO to review the progress of NASA’s human exploration programs. This report examines the Commercial Crew Program, including (1) the extent to which the contractors have made progress towards certification and (2) how NASA’s certification process addresses safety of the contractors’ crew transportation systems. GAO analyzed contracts, schedules, and other documentation and spoke with officials from NASA, the Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, SpaceX, and two of NASA’s independent review bodies that provide oversight.

CCDev 2 Partners Reach Early Milestones

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — NASA’s industry partners have met all their initial milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities to reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

NASA posted its first status report on the agency’s Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) program to its website. The report highlights the progress and accomplishments for the agency’s commercial spaceflight development efforts. Designed to be a bi-monthly report, it is targeted toward the interested layperson and other non-technical stakeholders in order to keep them informed of our achievements. (more…)