NASA Authorization Act Calls for Study of Sending Orion to Space Station

NASA astronaut Suni Williams exits a test version of the Orion spacecraft in the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston. The testing is helping NASA identify the best ways to efficiently get astronauts out of the spacecraft after deep space missions. (Credit: NASA)

The Senate-approved NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 would require the space agency to conduct a study of whether the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would be capable of carrying crews and supplies to the International Space Station.

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SpaceX Pushes Back Red Dragon Mission to Mars by 2 Years

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule.

“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”

The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024.

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Top Programmatic Risks for SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Program

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA Commercial Crew Program
Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

GAO Report 17-137
February 16, 2017

Program’s Top Risks for SpaceX

The Commercial Crew Program’s top programmatic and safety risks for SpaceX are, in part, related to ongoing launch vehicle design and development efforts. Prior to SpaceX’s September 2016 loss of a Falcon 9 during pre-launch operations, the program was tracking several risks related to SpaceX’s launch vehicle.

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Top Programmatic Risks for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program

Boeing’s CST-100 Structural Test Article ready for shipment from C3PF to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California. (Credit: Boeing)

NASA Commercial Crew Program
Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

GAO Report 17-137
February 16, 2017

Program’s Top Risks for Boeing

The Commercial Crew Program’s top programmatic and safety risks for Boeing are, in part, related to having adequate information on certain systems to support certification. For example, the Commercial Crew Program is tracking a risk about having the data it needs to certify Boeing’s launch vehicle, ULA’s Atlas V, for manned spaceflight.

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GAO: Commercial Crew Contractors Under Increasing Schedule Pressure


NASA Commercial Crew Program

Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

GAO Report 17-137
February 16, 2017

What GAO Found

Both of the Commercial Crew Program’s contractors have made progress developing their crew transportation systems, but both also have aggressive development schedules that are increasingly under pressure. The two contractors — Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) — are developing transportation systems that must meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) standards for human spaceflight — a process called certification.

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Dream Chaser Arrives at Edwards for Drop Tests

Editor’s Note: Dream Chaser was last at Edwards in October 2013 for its first and only drop test. It was released from a helicopter and glided to a runway landing. However, it crashed after part of its landing gear failed to deploy. Video of the accident has never been released.

At the time, Sierra Nevada was testing a crew version of the Dream Chaser under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The vehicle was dropped from the program the following year. However, NASA has given the company a contract to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) using a cargo variant of the spacecraft.

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Boeing Unveils Starliner Spacesuit

starliner_spacesuit_montage
By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Astronauts heading into orbit aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will wear lighter and more comfortable spacesuits than earlier suits astronauts wore. The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations. Boeing unveiled its spacesuit design Wednesday as the company continues to move toward flight tests of its Starliner spacecraft and launch systems that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

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Commercial Crew’s Role in Path to Mars

deep_space_exploration_graphic
By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The spacecraft, rockets and associated systems in development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program are critical links in the agency’s chain to send astronauts safely to and from the Red Planet in the future, even though the commercial vehicles won’t venture to Mars themselves. The key is reliable access to the International Space Station as a test bed.

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The Year Ahead for Commercial Crew

Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
By Steven Siceloff,

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Throughout 2017, NASA and its commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will make major steps touching every area of space system development and operations, from completing flight-worthy spacecraft and rockets to putting the finishing touches on launch pads to performing detailed countdown and flight rehearsals.

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Starliner STA Arrives in California for Testing

Boeing's CST-100 Structural Test Article ready for shipment from C3PF to Boeing's facility in Huntington Beach, California. (Credit: Boeing)
Boeing’s CST-100 Structural Test Article ready for shipment from C3PF to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California. (Credit: Boeing)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (NASA PR) — Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will experience a variety of tremendous internal and external forces during missions to and from the International Space Station.  When the Starliner launches in 2018, it won’t be the first time the spacecraft has encountered these forces. That is because Boeing built a Structural Test Article that will experience the rigors of spaceflight in a test facility in an effort to prove the design of the spacecraft. The module was built inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida before it was shipped it across the country to Huntington Beach, California, for testing.

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The Growing Cost of Not Having Direct Access to ISS

At the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko will launch Sept. 24, Kazakh time on the Soyuz MS-02 vehicle for a five-month mission on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)
Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Bloomberg Government reports that delays in fielding replacements for the retired space shuttle has forced NASA to send billions of dollars to Russia over the past six years.

NASA has spent $897 million with state-controlled Roscosmos since fiscal 2015 and $2.1 billion since the U.S. retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, Bloomberg Government data show….

NASA must rely on Russia to transport astronauts and equipment for at least two more years. Roscosmos will receive another $950 million in 2017 and 2018 for 12 more round trips on Soyuz ISS flights, according a September report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General.

Congressional budget cuts to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program forced the agency to extend its contract with Roscosmos to keep sending American astronauts to the ISS, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s August 2015 letter to Congress.

Putin consolidated the Russian space industry into Roscosmos in 2015, placing several close advisers in senior positions, according to Senator John McCain. Among them are Chairman Dmitry Rogozin and board member Sergei Chemezov, who are listed as Specially Designated Nationals on the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control SDN Sanctions List. Their names were added to the list following President Obama’s March 2014 emergency Executive Order 13660, issued in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Treasury denies that sanctions on Russia apply to the space industry. So while NASA isn’t in violation, it’s in an awkward position of paying billions of agency dollars directly to Russian government coffers to maintain a presence on the ISS.

The figures do not include the cost of additional Soyuz seats that NASA might end up buying for 2019 if commercial crew efforts by SpaceX and Boeing are delayed beyond 2018. NASA could purchase up to three seats through Boeing, which received them as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit against Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.

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ASAP’s Report Card on NASA Safety

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)
International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel
Annual Report for 2016
January 11, 2017
[Full Report – PDF]

Excerpts

Report Summary

Twelve topic areas, highlighted in this report, are summarized in the table below. They have been broken out to focus attention on individual topics that the Panel feels are worthy of note.

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ASAP Report Targets Concerns Over SpaceX Propellant Loading

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

A new NASA reports says that while Boeing and SpaceX are making progress on their commercial crew spacecraft, but a number of key technical challenges remain and there is “a very real possibility” of “a substantial slip in the schedule” in the already delayed programs.

In its 2016 Annual Report, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said it was concerned about SpaceX’s “load and go” approach of placing the load aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft prior to loading the Falcon 9 booster with propellants, particularly in the wake of the loss of a booster in September while it was being fueled.

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Starliner Simulator Arrives at NASA Johnson

Boeing Mission Simulator for CST-100 arrives at JSC.
Boeing Mission Simulator for CST-100 arrives at JSC.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — As commercial crew astronauts climb inside Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the first time atop of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, there will be something very familiar about what they are doing.

This is because of a new simulator that arrived today at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The Boeing Mission Simulator is a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner outfitted with the same state-of-the-art interior as the real spacecraft. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams worked with the simulator after its assembly in St. Louis before it was shipped to Texas.

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NASA Awards Additional Crew Missions to Boeing, SpaceX

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA took another big step to ensure reliable crew transportation to the International Space Station into the next decade. The agency’s Commercial Crew Program has awarded an additional four crew rotation missions each to commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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