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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A Look at Payloads Launched in 2016

Built by Lockheed Martin, the WorldView-4 satellite will expand DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading constellation of high-accuracy, high-resolution satellites, and double the availability of 30 cm resolution imagery for commercial and government customers around the globe. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

State of the Payload Industry

Space industry companies and organizations worldwide, sometimes the same as launch vehicle manufacturers but also those specifically dedicated to spacecraft manufacturing, produce these spacecraft. Commercially launched payloads are typically used for the following mission types:

  • Commercial communications satellites;
  • Commercial remote sensing or Earth observation satellites;
  • Commercial crew and cargo missions, including on-orbit vehicles and platforms;
  • Technology test and demonstration missions, usually new types of payloads undergoing test or used to test new launch vehicle technology; and
  • Other commercially launched payloads, usually satellites launched for various purposes by governments of countries not having indigenous orbital launch capability.

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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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Commercial Crew Year in Review

Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Boeing and SpaceX made numerous advances on their crew transportation systems set to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Both companies began building the spacecraft that will fly the flight tests for the program before beginning crew rotation missions. Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner to fly on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and SpaceX is building its Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

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SpaceX Slips Commercial Crew Flight Test Schedule

Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
Wake the neighbors and phone the kids.

SpaceX has update its commercial crew schedule for the first time in six months. Coupled with Boeing’s update from October, we now have a fully updated timeline for the entire program.  Below is the current schedule according to NASA.

Targeted Flight Test Dates to International Space Station

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (No Crew): November 2017
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (No Crew: June 2018
  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (Crew): May 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test (Crew): August 2018

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes Hot Fires of Starliner Abort Engine

Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully completed a series of hot-fire tests on two Launch Abort Engines featuring innovative new propellant valves for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner service module propulsion system. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully completed a series of hot-fire tests on two Launch Abort Engines featuring innovative new propellant valves for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner service module propulsion system. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 31, 2016 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), has successfully completed a series of hot-fire tests on two Launch Abort Engines (LAE) featuring innovative new propellant valves for Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner service module propulsion system. The tests were conducted in the Mojave Desert in California, and confirmed the ability for the new valves to modulate propellant flow and control peak LAE thrust in the event of a launch abort.

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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program By the Numbers

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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.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Delivers First Set of Propulsion Hardware for Boeing Starliner

Artist's conception of CST-100 Starliner docking at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Artist’s conception of CST-100 Starliner docking at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 18, 2016 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), has completed delivery of the first set of hardware for Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner service module propulsion system. The Starliner is designed to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The first delivered hardware includes the low-pressure port and starboard manifold assemblies, which will distribute helium necessary to push propellants out to the service module’s engines and thrusters.

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Program Updates from ISPCS

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.

What follows are summaries that include:

  • suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
  • commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
  • commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).

The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (‏@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer ‏(@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson ‏(@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (‏@DrSampson) for the coverage.

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ULA, Boeing Unveil Launch Configuration for CST-100 Starliner

Atlas V CST-100 Starliner at Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA/Boeing)
Atlas V CST-100 Starliner at Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA/Boeing)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2016) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) and The Boeing Company today unveiled an updated aerodynamic configuration of the Atlas V that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule for NASA after encountering unique challenges with aerodynamic stability and loads.

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Boeing Delays First CST-100 Starliner Operational Flight to December 2018

Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)
Starliner structural test article. (Credit: Boeing)

Score one for the NASA Inspector General (IG).

On Sept. 1, the space agency watchdog released an audit of the Commercial Crew Program that found it was unlikely either Boeing or SpaceX would begin flying crews to the International Space Station on an operational basis until the end of 2018.

Boeing has become the first company to validate that finding. The company has delayed its first operational flight of its CST-100 Starliner by an additional six months to December 2018, Aviation Week reports.

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Boeing Unveils New Home for Starliner Trainers

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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I Will Launch America: Mike Ravenscroft

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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Elon Musk Ponders Renaming Mars Colonial Transporter as Crew Dragon Slips

Elon Musk has began to tease a talk he is set to give on Sept. 27 in which he is to reveal his plans for sending people to Mars. Musk will deliver his talk, titled “Making Humans a Multi-planetary Species,” during the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. According to the program

Elon Musk will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars. The technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for colonizing the Red Planet that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead.

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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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