SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Program Delay: 3+ Years

An instrumented mannequin sits in the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

Updated Oct. 9, 2019 at 9:08 am PDT with paragraph summarizing some of the reasons for the schedule delays.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week or so about NASA’s delay plagued Commercial Crew Program, which is designed to restore the nation’s ability to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.

Prior to SpaceX CEO’s Elon Musk’s Sept. 28 webcast update on the Starship program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed frustration that the company wasn’t more focused on the Crew Dragon program that hasn’t flown astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) yet.

Asked about the delay by a CNN journalist after giving an update on Starship’s progress on Sept. 28, Musk questioned whether Bridenstine was asking about delays at with commercial crew or with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). He laughed and mugged for the camera.

Musk’s rabid fans cheered it to be a sick burn against against a slow-moving space agency. The administrator diplomatically called it not helpful. He also revealed the cause of his pique.


NASA’s Commercial Crew Program By the Numbers

With the recent news that commercial crew flights to the International Space Station will likely slip to the end of 2018, I thought it would be a good time to review what NASA has spend on the program since it began in 2010. And, since NASA has separated cargo and crew, we will also look at the space agency’s commercial cargo programs.

The table below shows that NASA has given out nearly $8.4 billion in contracts to Commercial Crew Program partners over the past six years. These figures do not include NASA’s overhead.


NASA Orders Second SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

Interior of crewed Dragon (Credit: SpaceX)
Interior of crewed Dragon (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA took another important step Friday in returning U.S. astronaut launches from U.S. soil with the order of a second post-certification mission from commercial provider SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. Commercial crew flights from Florida’s Space Coast to the International Space Station will restore America’s human spaceflight launch capability and increase the time U.S. crews can dedicate to scientific research, which is helping prepare astronauts for deep space missions, including the Journey to Mars.


SpaceX Running More Than One Year Behind Schedule on Commercial Crew

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s commercial crew program is running more than a year behind schedule on the Commercial Crew program it is performing for NASA.

Garrett Reisman, SpaceX’s Director of Crew Operations, said on Tuesday that an automated flight test of the Crew Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) has slipped into the second quarter of 2017.  (Spaceflight Now has the mission listed for May 2017.) It was scheduled to occur in March 2016 under the contract NASA awarded to SpaceX in September 2014.


SpaceX’s Busy To-Do List for Rest of 2015

SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was making the rounds last week in Washington, D.C., speaking before the Satellite 2015 conference and a House Armed Services subcommittee meeting. Much of the focus was on the latter, where Shotwell engaged in a she said-he said battle over launch costs with United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno.

More interesting were the updates Shotwell provided on SpaceX’s plans for 2015 and beyond. What emerged is just how crowded the company’s agenda is for the rest of the year. The table below provides a summary.


Boeing CCtCap Milestones

Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)
Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing CCtCap Milestone Status
Milestones: 23
Milestones Completed: 2
Milestones Remaining: 21

A couple of notes on the table below:

  • In January, Boeing said it was planning an automated test flight of the CST-100 spacecraft to the International Space Station in April 2017 followed by a flight with crew in July of that year. These flights do not seem to be listed as specific milestones in the contract document.
  • The designation of milestones 3 and 4 as Pending does not necessarily indicate they are incomplete at this time. It’s possible they have been completed but not yet announced.
  • Boeing stated in January that the pad abort test would be completed in February 2017. The schedule calls for the test to be completed by December 2016.
1Certification Baseline Review (CBR)November 2014Complete
2Ground Segment Critical Design Review (CDR)November 2014
3Phase II Safety Review – Part B (Integrated System)December 2014Pending
4Delta Integrated Critical Design Review (I-CDR)January 2015Pending
5Qualification Test Vehicle (QTV) Production Readiness ReviewMarch 2015Pending
6Structural Test Article (STA) Test Readiness Review (TRR)April 2015Pending
7CST-100 Checkout and Control System (CCCS) Activation/Validation Tests CompleteJuly 2015Pending
8Qualification Test Vehicle (QTV) Integrated Readiness Review (IRR)
August 2015Pending
9Flight Software Demonstration Nominal Launch, Docking and De-OrbitOctober 2015Pending
10Orbital Flight Test Configuration Performance & Weight Status Report (CPWSR) December 2015Pending
11Mission Control Center Integrated Simulation System Acceptance Review (SAR)January 2016Pending
12Qualification Test Vehicle Test Readiness Review (TRR)April 2016Pending
13Integrated Parachute System Drop Tests 1 & 2 Complete
June 2016Pending
14Service Module Hot Fire Launch Abort Test CompleteSeptember 2016Pending
15International Space Station Design Certification Review (DCR) Delivery
November 2016Pending
16Orbital Flight Test Flight Operations Review (FOR)
August 2016Pending
17Spacecraft Servicing Operational Readiness Review (ORR)November 2016Pending
18Pad Abort Test CompleteDecember 2016Pending
19Orbital Flight Test (OFT) Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR)January 2017Pending
20Crewed Flight Test Design Certification ReviewMarch 2017Pending
21Crewed Flight Test (CFT) Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR)April 2017Pending
22Operational Readiness Review (ORR)July 2017Pending
23Certification Review (CR) DeliveryAugust 2017Pending

SpaceX CCtCap & CCiCap Milestones

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CCiCAP Milestone Status
Milestones: 20
Milestones Completed: 18
Milestones Remaining: 2
Total Possible Award: $460 Million
Total Award to Date: $400 Million
Total Award Remaining: $60 Million

11Pad Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct a pad abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The scenario where an abort is initiated while the CTS is still on the pad is a design driver for the launch abort system as it dictates the total impulse and also requires parachute deployment in close proximity to the ground.December 2013Pending$30 Million
14In-Flight Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The in-flight abort test will supplement the pad abort test and complete the corners-of-the-box stress cases. The in-flight abort scenario represents a Dragon abort while under propulsive flight of the launch vehicle during the worst-case dynamic loads on the CTS.April 2014Pending$30 Million

SpaceX CCtCap Milestone Status
Milestones: 18
Milestones Completed: 1
Milestones Remaining: 17

1Certification Baseline Review (CBR)December 2014Complete
2Initial Propulsion Module Testing CompleteApril 2015
3Avionics Test Bed ActivationMay 2015Pending
4Delta Critical Design Review (dCDR)June 2015Pending
5Docking System Qualification Testing CompleteAugust 2015Pending
6Propulsive Land Landing Test CompleteSeptember 2015Pending
7Launch Site Operational Readiness ReviewNovember 2015Pending
8Flight Test without Crew Certification Review (FTCR)
December 2015Pending
9ECLSS Integrated Test CompleteFebruary 2016Pending
10Flight to ISS Without CrewMarch 2016Pending
11Parachute Qualification CompleteApril 2016Pending
12Space Suit Qualification Testing CompleteMay 2016Pending
13Launch Site Operational Readiness Review for Crew
June 2016Pending
14Design Certification Review (DCR)July 2016Pending
15Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR)
September 2016Pending
16Flight to ISS with Crew
October 2016Pending
17Operations Readiness Review (ORR)January 2017Pending
18Certification Review (CR)April 2017Pending

SpaceX Plans for Pad Abort Test at Cape

SpaceX Dragon abort test article. (Credit: SpaceX)
SpaceX Dragon abort test article. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is gearing up for two critical commercial crew tests involving its Dragon capsule in the coming months: a pad abort test in Florida, and an in-flight abort at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The pad abort test will occur sometime between Feb. 10 and May 10 according to an application for special temporary authority (STA) that SpaceX has filed with the Federal Commission Commission. The STA is required for use of radio frequency during the test.


NASA Praises GAO Commercial Crew Decision

NASA issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision to deny a protest Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, filed Sept. 26, 2014, challenging the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) Contract awards made Sept. 16, 2014, to The Boeing Company, Space Exploration, Houston, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California.

“The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation’s protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO’s decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision.”


Commercial Crew Partners Completed 23 Milestones in 2014


WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and the agency’s industry partners completed 23 agreement and contract milestones in 2014 and participated in thousands of hours of technical review sessions. The sessions focused on creating a new generation of safe, reliable and cost-effective crew space transportation systems to low-Earth orbit destinations.


SpaceX Completes First CCtCap Milestone

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency.

During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station.


Boeing Completes Second CCtCAP Milestone

Concept of the floor of the CST-100 assembly facility that Boeing envisions at Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: Boeing)
Concept of the floor of the CST-100 assembly facility that Boeing envisions at Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The momentum of certifying American space transportation systems capable of carrying astronauts to the International Space Station continued on pace as NASA took a comprehensive look at all of Boeing’s ground-based system designs. This Ground Segment Critical Design Review marks the second milestone in the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, NASA’s Launch America initiative designed to return human spaceflight launches to the United States and end our reliance on Russia.


Boeing Completes First CCtCap Milestone

Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)
Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has approved the completion of Boeing’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station from the United States under a groundbreaking Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract.

The Certification Baseline Review is the first of many more milestones, including flight tests from Florida’s Space Coast that will establish the basis for certifying Boeing’s human space transportation system to carry NASA astronauts to the space station. The review established a baseline design of the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and associated ground and mission operations systems.


Sierra Nevada Files Suit to Reinstate Hold on Commercial Crew Work


Space News reports that Sierra Nevada Corporation has filed suit to stop Boeing and SpaceX from continuing commercial crew work while the company’s appeal of the awards to the two companies is pending.

In filings with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Sierra Nevada filed requests for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to overturn a NASA decision Oct. 9 lifting an order stopping work on Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded Sept. 16 to Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

NASA had issued a stop-work order shortly after Sierra Nevada filed a protest regarding the CCtCap awards with the U.S. Government Accountability Office Sept. 26. On Oct. 9, NASA lifted the order, citing “statutory authority available to it” in order to keep the program on schedule.

NASA justified the decision by warning that any delay in carrying out the contracts “poses risks” to the international space station crew and could jeopardize operations of the station. “NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts,” the agency said in a statement posted on the commercial crew program website.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

Sierra Nevada Statement on Commercial Crew Awards

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)
Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

Sierra Nevada Corporation has issued the following statement concerning the Commercial Crew Program awards to Boeing and SpaceX:

“Sierra Nevada Corporation recognizes that NASA has made a selection of an alternative provider(s) in the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap) competition. SNC is planning to have a debrief session with NASA soon to obtain the source selection statement and decision rationale. When this process is complete and after a thorough evaluation, SNC will elaborate further on its future options regarding the NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract decision and the Dream Chaser program. Due to this pending activity SNC will have no further public statement at this time. We will be providing further information at a later date.

“While SNC is disappointed NASA did not select its Dream Chaser® Space System for the CCtCap contract, SNC commends NASA for initiating the effort and is privileged to have been part of returning human space flight to the United States through our awarded contracts in all other phases of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program over the past four years.”