Tag: commercial crew

Boeing Unveils New Home for Starliner Trainers

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NASA Commercial Crew Program astronaut Sunita Williams demonstrates Boeing’s Crew Part-Task Trainer, which is being used to prepare crew members to fly to the International Space Station aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett)

NASA Commercial Crew Program astronaut Sunita Williams demonstrates Boeing’s Crew Part-Task Trainer, which is being used to prepare crew members to fly to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Suddenly, you’re barreling down toward Earth at speeds 10 times faster than a bullet, headed straight for Earth—but all the nerves are gone. You’ve landed this flight 100 times before.

Nearly 250 miles below, hallways within NASA Johnson Space Center’s Jake Garn Mission Simulator and Training Facility are lined with history. Since 1965, the facility, known to JSC team members simply as Building 5, has trained the world’s greatest explorers for Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle and International Space Station Program missions.

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Roundup of SpaceX Accident and Commercial Crew News

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Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

SpaceX Falcon 9 Failures

SpaceX suffered two failures of its Falcon 9 booster within 14 months. Both failures apparently occurred in the second stage of the rocket.

SpaceX has had problems with helium since at least 2014 when two flights were scrubbed due to leaks. In the 2015 accident, a helium bottle broke free inside the liquid oxygen tank leading to over pressurization. SpaceX has preliminarily identified a large breach in the second stage cryogenic helium system as the cause of the failure earlier this month.

Below are some key stories about the accidents and the investigations into them.

SpaceXplosion Update: Preliminary Review Suggests “Large Breach in Cryogenic Helium System” — Sept. 23, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/23/spacexplosion-update-preliminary-review-suggests-large-breach-cryogenic-helium-system/

SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus — Sept. 12, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

A Video Analysis of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly — Sept. 19, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/video-spacex-falcon-9-explosion/

Falcon 9 Pad Failure Throws SpaceX Schedule into Doubt — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/falcon-9-pad-failure-throws-spacex-schedule-doubt/

NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident — Sept 16, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/16/nasa-hasnt-released-report-spacexs-accident/

NASA Investigation into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Explosion Questions Single Strut Theory — June 28, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/06/28/nasa-investigation-spacexs-falcon-explosion-questions-single-strut-theory/

Musk: Failed Strut Suspected in Falcon 9 Failure — July 20, 2015
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2015/07/20/musk-failed-strut-suspected-falcon-9-failure/

SpaceX Postpones AsiaSat6 Launch — Aug. 26, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/08/26/spacex-postpones-asiasat6-launch/

SpaceX Scrubs Falcon 9 Launch — April 14, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/04/14/spacex-scrubs-falcon-9-launch/

Commercial Crew Updates

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

On the same day as the Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded on the launch pad, the NASA Inspector General released a report that concluded that neither SpaceX nor Boeing were likely to fly crews to the International Space Station on a commercial basis until the end of 2018.

It’s unclear whether the Falcon 9 failure will further delay SpaceX’s Crew Dragon program. One issue is that SpaceX wants to use super cold densified fuels in the rocket that must be loaded close to the launch time to keep them from warming. That would require putting the crews on board before fuel loading, something that has never been done before.

NASA was not that comfortable with densified fuels or loading the crew first before the failure earlier this month. It remains to be seen whether the space agency will ever allow it now.

Below are three stories looking at SpaceX’s commercial crew challenges.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Challenges: Welds, Cracks & Water Seepage — Sept. 4, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/04/spacex-crew-dragon-challenges-welds-cracks-water-seepage/

SpaceX Commercial Crew Milestone Status — Sept. 3, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/03/spacex-commercial-crew-milestone-status/

NASA OIG Report: Further Delays in Commercial Crew, More Payments to Russians — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/nasa-oig-report-delays-commercial-crews-payments-russians/

I Will Launch America: Mike Ravenscroft

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Mike Ravenscroft (Credit: NASA)

Mike Ravenscroft (Credit: NASA)

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

Every astronaut who flies into space should go with the confidence that every detail of their spacecraft, rocket and mission has been thought-through and evaluated carefully, engineer Michael Ravenscroft said. That’s one of the reasons that the Commercial Crew Program engineer takes so little for granted as the program steers itself and partners toward a new dawn of human spaceflight from American soil.

“It’s one of those things you always think about – you don’t want to put anybody at unnecessary risk,” Ravenscroft said.

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SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus

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Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this, but you pay for that
And once you’re gone, you can never come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black.

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
Neil Young

In his book, “Mastery,” George Leonard provides a fascinating explanation of how people master new skills.

The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)

The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)

“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it,” Leonard writes. “The curve above is not necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same.”

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NASA Suffering Significant Delays in Evaluating Commercial Crew Hazard Reports

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Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

Improvements Needed to Ensure Timely Reviews of Contractor Development Efforts

NASA is responsible for managing the certification process for the Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew transportation systems to ensure they meet Agency human rating requirements. Timely insight into the contractors’ activities is vital to ensure this process proceeds on schedule and within the agreed-upon budget. As part of the certification process and to provide insight into contractor efforts, Boeing and SpaceX conduct safety reviews and develop reports on potential hazards and the controls they have put in place to mitigate them (hazard reports) for NASA’s review.

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Boeing’s Starliner Challenges: Weight, Vibrations, Software & Landings

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Boeing CST-100 Starliner high bay (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Boeing CST-100 Starliner high bay (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

Boeing’s CCtCap contract initially included 23 milestones ranging from the establishment of an original requirements baseline to the final vehicle certification. Within the first 2 years of the contract, Boeing and NASA modified the contract to separate three of the milestones into multiple segments, replace one milestone, and add seven milestones related to NASA-imposed software upgrades, landing qualification tests, and hardware modifications.18 These modifications increased the number of milestones to 34 and the total contract value by approximately $46 million.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Challenges: Welds, Cracks & Water Seepage

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

SpaceX’s CCtCap contract initially included 18 milestones ranging from establishment of the original requirements baseline to final vehicle certification. During the first year of the contract, SpaceX and NASA agreed to separate SpaceX’s Propulsion Module Testing and Critical Design Review into multiple segments, which increased the total milestones to 21.20

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Boeing Commercial Crew Milestone Status

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

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

Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

In 2016, Boeing amended its schedule to reflect receipt of certification in January 2018 and the first certified flight in the spring of 2018. Notwithstanding the contractors’ optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018.
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SpaceX Commercial Crew Milestone Status

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Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

Information below excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

SpaceX’s CCtCap contract initially included 18 milestones. During the first year of the contract, SpaceX and NASA agreed to separate SpaceX’s Propulsion Module Testing and Critical Design Review into multiple segments, which increased the total milestones to 21.

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Congress’ Chronic Under Funding of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

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Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

Past Funding Shortfalls Have Delayed NASA’s Commercial Crew Plans

As discussed in our previous report, for several years during its early development, the Commercial Crew Program received significantly less funding than requested.14 As shown in Table 2, to date the cumulative difference between the President’s budget requests for the Program and actual appropriations is approximately $1.1 billion. However, under the current CCtCap phase of the Program, Boeing and SpaceX are operating under firm-fixed price contracts, which provide a more stable cost estimate for the remaining work needed to certify the commercial crew vehicles. Further, in December 2015 – for the first time in 6 years – NASA received the full amount the President requested for the Program: $1.2 billion for FY 2016. Although not the only factor, the shortfall contributed to slippage in the Program’s schedule. NASA officials said while full funding in FY 2016 will help reduce risks related to budget uncertainty, it will do little to address technical Program risks.
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Cost of Russian Soyuz Seats Rose 384 Percent Over 10 Years

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Soyuz TMA-16M lifts off. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Soyuz TMA-16M lifts off. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

Russian Crew Transportation Services Have Been Costly

Until a domestic commercial crew capacity is available, NASA will continue to rely on Russia to transport crew to the ISS. As shown in Figure 4, the roundtrip cost for a seat on the Soyuz has increased approximately 384 percent over the last decade from $21.3 million in 2006 to $81.9 million under the most recent contract modification signed in August 2015. Under the 2015 contract, NASA will pay approximately $491.2 million for six seats in 2018.

Table 3 shows the total number of Soyuz seats NASA has contracted for and the total cost of those seats by calendar year.

soyuz_seat_costs_table_2006-18a The 2018 amount includes six seats purchased in the August 2015 contract modification as well as an additional seat purchased in an April 2014 contract modification.

Had the Agency met its original goal of securing commercial crew transportation by calendar year 2015, NASA could have avoided paying Russia close to $1 billion for Soyuz seats in 2017 and 2018, even factoring in the purchase of some seats in 2016 to cover the expected transition period.

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I Will Launch America: Brittani Sims

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i_will_launch_brittani_simsBy Joshua Finch,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Brittani Sims is one of the many dedicated employees supporting NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

An electrical engineer by education, Sims developed a passion for safety and human spaceflight in high school after watching the space shuttle on TV.

“I was just sitting on the couch watching TV and the news was covering the return of the space shuttle,” said Sims. “I wasn’t even aware what NASA did at the time. I remember asking my mom, ‘Did you know that we put people into space?’ When I went to school the next week, I told people that I wanted to work for NASA, and a lot of them didn’t really believe me.”

Sims says those doubts only served as additional motivation for her to achieve her goals.

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Boeing CST-100 Conducts Touchdown Tests at NASA Langley

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Dirt flies out as the mock-up of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner lands as part of testing on the spacecraft's landing system including airbags designed to absorb the shock of impact. (Credit: NASA/Langley Research Center)

Dirt flies out as the mock-up of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner lands as part of testing on the spacecraft’s landing system including airbags designed to absorb the shock of impact. (Credit: NASA/Langley Research Center)

By Sasha Ellis,
NASA’s Langley Research Center, Virginia

Hoisted about 30 feet in the air, a mockup of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft awaits its encounter with a pad full of dirt.

“Three, two, one” projects over the loud speaker just before the spacecraft is released and makes a loud thud when meeting the dirt. Six attached airbags absorb much of the landing impact and stabilize the spacecraft.

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ASAP Update on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

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Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) held a meeting on July 21, 2016 at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Below is a summary of the status of the  Commercial Crew program and the Boeing and SpaceX vehicles, including top programmatic risks.

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SpaceX Tests Crew Dragon Parachutes

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Crew Dragon parachute test (Credit: SpaceX)

Crew Dragon parachute test (Credit: SpaceX)

A Crew Dragon test article successfully deployed its four main parachutes as planned during a test that saw the SpaceX-made test article dropped from a C-130 aircraft 26,000 feet above Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada.

The Crew Dragon, designed to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, will use four parachutes when returning to Earth. SpaceX plans to land the initial flight tests and missions in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX is working on a propulsive landing system the company intends to use in the future missions to propulsively land on land using its SuperDraco engines.

The parachute test is just one of an evaluation regimen that is expected to include many additional parachute drops of increasing complexity. SpaceX and NASA engineers will use the results throughout the test program to confirm the system and get it certified for use first on flight tests and then for operational missions.

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