Commercial Crew Schedule Slip Slides to the Right

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers. [Emphasis mine]

Targeted Test Flight Dates:

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: November 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: April 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): August 2018

Editor’s Note: Note the careful wording of this latest press release: “most recent publicly releasable dates.” So, how far are the latest slips? Here is where they were in July.

Previous Targeted Test Flight & Milestone Dates (July 20, 2017):

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Operational Readiness Review: September 2018
Certification Review: October 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: February 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): June 2018
SpaceX Operational Readiness Review: August 2018
Certification Review: September 2018

SpaceX’s flights have slipped by two months. The Boeing automated flight has slipped by two months and the crew flight by three months. Boeing officials said last week that the second flight could slip in 2019.

The operational readiness reviews and certification reviews are necessary before the companies can begin flying astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

First Look at Launch Complex 39A Crew Access Arm

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe walk down the Crew Access Arm being built by SpaceX for Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The access arm will be installed on the launch pad, providing a bridge between the crew access tower and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – or Dragon 2 – spacecraft for astronauts flying to the International Space Station on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The access arm is being readied for installation in early 2018. It will be installed 70 feet higher than the former space shuttle access arm on the launch pad’s Fixed Service Structure. SpaceX continues to modify the historic launch site from its former space shuttle days, removing more than 500,000 pounds of steel from the pad structure, including the Rotating Service Structure that was once used for accessing the payload bay of the shuttle. SpaceX also is using the modernized site to launch commercial payloads, as well as cargo resupply missions to and from the International Space Station for NASA. The first SpaceX launch from the historic Apollo and space shuttle site was this past February.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, with a goal of once again flying people to and from the International Space Station, launching from the United States. Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to launch on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41. For information on Boeing and ULA’s work on Space Launch Complex 41, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/crew-access-arm-installed-for-starliner-missions.

SpaceX Receives Approval for Dragon Facility at Cape Canaveral

Planned expansion of Landing Zone 1 (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has received approval for the addition of a Dragon processing and refurbishment facility and static fire test stand at Cape Canaveral adjacent to Landing Zone 1 where Falcon 1 stages return to Earth.

The approval came from the St. Johns River Water Management District, which reviewed the project’s plan for storm water infrastructure.

“The Processing Facility finished floor, the building apron, and the static fire test pad will be constructed of concrete while the surrounding aprons and associated pathways will be constructed of a crushed gravel mixture,” according to the application. “A storm water management system will be constructed to retain all water on-site for percolation.”

The static fire test stand will be used to test launch abort motors for the Dragon 2 crew vehicle that is set to make its maiden flight early next year. The project area covers 7.6 acres.

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Musk: Moon In, Red Dragon & Propulsive Landings Out

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

During an appearance at the International Space Station Research & Development Conference on Wednesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said plans for propulsive crew Dragon landings and Red Dragon missions to Mars had been scrapped, downplayed the probability that the first Falcon Heavy launch will succeed, and even had a good word to say about the moon.

Here are notes from the talk.

State of Space Exploration

  • Entering a new era of space exploration
  • SpaceX and other companies developing new systems
  • NASA approaching things in new ways
  • Space station resupply program should be adapted across the government
  • Key to opening up space is “rapid and complete reusability”, but it is very difficult

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Has Mars Man Musk Pivoted to the Moon?

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc

Partway through an appearance at the International Space Station R&D Conference on Wednesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dropped a bombshell into a conference room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC.

“If you want to get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon,” he said. “That would be pretty cool. And then going beyond that, getting people to Mars.”

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Trump Administration’s NASA Policy Slowly Emerges

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week was long on rhetoric and short on details, but a few themes and priorities have already emerged in the Trump Administration’s slowly evolving approach to the nation’s civilian space program.

NASA Will Lead Again

In a speech in which he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump, Pence used some variation of the word “lead” a total of 33 times (“leadership” 18 times, “leader(s)” eight times,  “lead”  six times and “leading” once).
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SpaceX on a Rapid Launch Cadence for 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX’s successful launch of the Intelsat 35e communications satellite on Wednesday was the company’s third launch in 12 days and its 10th successful launch of 2017, the most the company has ever launched during any calendar year.

Just past the mid-point of the year, SpaceX has launched more times than any other company or nation in 2017. The company’s flights account for just under short of one-quarter of the 44 launch attempts this year.

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Commercial Crew Spacecraft Will Offer a Quick Escape from Station


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

New, American-made spacecraft flying to the International Space Station will play a big role in bringing resident crews back home to Earth, but their missions also include the ability to provide the orbiting laboratory with a temporary shelter in case of an emergency in space, or even a safe ride back to Earth with short notice.

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Astronauts Work with Crew Dragon Qualification Vehicle

Astronaut Bob Behnken emerges from the top hatch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in manufacturing at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California, as astronaut Eric Boe looks on. (Credit: SpaceX)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Bob Behnken and Eric Boe, two of NASA’s four veteran astronauts who supported SpaceX as it refines its crew transportation system designs, checked out the Crew Dragon being used for qualification testing. NASA astronauts routinely travel to industry facilities during spacecraft and mission development to train and offer insights to engineers.

As seen here, Behken is evaluating the Crew Dragon’s hatches. The top hatch, at the nose of the spacecraft, will be the connecting port at the International Space Station. The side hatch will be the entryway for crews getting into the spacecraft when on Earth.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft and related test vehicles are being manufactured at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California. The Crew Dragon is being built to routinely fly four astronauts to the International Space Station although it can carry up to seven people. Flight tests, first without a crew then with astronauts aboard, will take place before operational crew rotation missions.

NASA also partnered with Boeing to build and operate a separate, independent space system called the CST-100 Starliner to carry astronauts to the station. Both vehicles are being developed in close coordination with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

ECLSS Put to the Test for Commercial Crew Missions

Engineers evaluate the ECLSS system designed for Crew Dragon missions. (Credits: SpaceX)

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

Extensive evaluations are underway on the life support systems vital to successful flight tests as NASA prepares to return human spaceflight to the United States. One of the most intensely studied systems is called ECLSS. Short for environmental control and life support system and pronounced ‘e-cliss,’ the system is a complex network of machinery, pipes, tanks and sensors that work together to provide astronauts with air and other essentials during missions for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to and from the International Space Station.

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NASA’s Commercial Cargo & Crew Spending

Dragon spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: NASA)

In announcing its plan to send two people around the moon using the Falcon Heavy and Dragon 2 in 2018 before NASA can do so using its own rocket and spaceship, SpaceX paid tribute to the space agency that has funded its rise.

“Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible,” SpaceX said in a statement. “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission.”

NASA funding has been behind Elon Musk’s company every step of the way as SpaceX has developed Dragon and the Falcon 9 booster upon which the Falcon Heavy is based. So, no NASA and, in all likelihood, no SpaceX.

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