NASA OIG Report: Further Delays in Commercial Crew, More Payments to Russians

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An audit by the NASA Inspector General released today indicates that the commercial crew program will likely delayed further due to technical and administrative challenges at significant cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Synopsis

  • First commercial crew flights likely to slip to late 2018 — 3 years beyond original schedule
  • Boeing and SpaceX facing significant design challenges, including CST-100 weight and excess seawater seeping into the Dragon capsule
  • “Significant” delays in NASA evaluation of partner safety and hazard reviews and reports
  • NASA to pay additional $490 million ($82 million per seat) for astronaut transport on Russian Soyuz through 2018

Below is a summary from the report. Read the full audit here.

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ASAP Update on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

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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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RL-10 Engine Tested for Boeing CST-100 Starliner Flight

Steam billows from the engine test stand as the RL10 engine fires. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Steam billows from the engine test stand as the RL10 engine fires.
(Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

By Steven Siceloff
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A trio of NASA astronauts watched last Friday as engineers and technicians from Aerojet Rocketdyne fired one of the RL10 engines that will help power the first crewed flight test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as it flies into orbit on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

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Starliner Crew Access Arm Installed

The Crew Access Arm for Commerical Crew Program (CCP) being installed to the tower at Pad 41. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
The Crew Access Arm for Commerical Crew Program (CCP) being installed to the tower at Pad 41. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — A 50-foot-long, 90,000-pound bridge to space known as the Crew Access Arm was installed today at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Workers have been modifying the launch pad so astronauts can climb aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft ahead of NASA Commercial Crew Program missions to the International Space Station.

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NASA Q&A on Commercial Crew Program

Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director, from left, Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams discuss talk about the development of a new generation of human-rated spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director, from left, Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams discuss talk about the development of a new generation of human-rated spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

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

There are few days that are the same for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program astronauts as they train for flight tests aboard the next generation of human-rated spacecraft, astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams told an audience at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

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More Delays Coming for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program?

I asked Eric what he meant by this Tweet. He said he was referring to a crewed test flight of either SpaceX’s Dragon or Boeing’s CST-100 sometime by the end of 2018. That would push back the first commercial mission into 2019.

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Inside KSC: CST-100 Starliner, VAB Work

Video Caption: NASA and Boeing entered in an agreement with Bastion Technologies for the company to build training mock-ups and ground support equipment for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. In Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building, half of the 10 work platforms now have been installed to surround the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, providing access during preflight processing.

I Will Launch America: Steve Payne

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

Steve Payne always knew he wanted to work for NASA.

“As a kid, I watched the moon landings on TV,” Payne said. “I grew up with pictures of rockets on my wall. Like every kid in that era, space was everywhere and I wanted to do that.”

Over the years, Payne has not lost his passion for all things space and sometimes he gets a little carried away. Like earlier this year, when he was asked to build a model rocket for his child’s school fundraiser and ended up with a 15-foot-tall, high-fidelity model of a Saturn 1B rocket from the early days of the space program. The model rocket still sits in his living room.

“I did it for the kids’ school, but also because I’m a nerd,” said Payne. “I like launching model rockets anyway. I build my own rockets from scratch. I can make almost anything fly with a rocket engine in it.”

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NASA Advisory Council Receives Updates on NASA Programs

NASA LOGOThe NASA Advisory Council has been meeting in Cleveland this week, receiving program updates from top agency officials. Below is a summary of the first two days based on Tweets by Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) and Marcia Smith (@SpcPlcyOnline). There are updates below on:

  • Commercial crew
  • Commercial cargo
  • International Space Station
  • SLS/Orion
  • NextSTEP
  • Deep-space human mission planning
  • SpaceX’s Red Dragon
  • Mars 2020
  • Blue Origin

Enjoy!
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Boeing Debuts Modernized High Bay at Kennedy Space Center

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

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Boeing on Tuesday unveiled its clean-floor facility that serves as the hub for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as they are manufactured and prepared for flight to and from the International Space Station, and where they’ll refurbished between missions. The high bay in the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, formerly known as Orbiter Processing Facility 3, is now modernized and ready to support the Starliner program.

It was once filled with about 1,000 tons of steel work platforms that enshrouded the space shuttle orbiters as they were refurbished and prepared for flight. Today, the facility contains several pieces of hardware and a mock-up that are key to Boeing’s and NASA’s efforts to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast through the Commercial Crew Program.

(Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests Starliner Service Module Engines

Starliner engine hot fire (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Starliner engine hot fire (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — The small jets designed to steer Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit were fired in a vacuum chamber recently at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Testing continues for elements of the new Starliner spacecraft before components are installed into the first space-bound capsule. Aerojet Rocketyne built the reaction control engines and used a chamber to pulse fire three engines up to 4,000 times for a total of 1,600 seconds each. Both are record times for lightweight thrusters with composite chambers.

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.Aerojet Rocketdyne is testing and will provide the service module propulsion system production hardware, including launch abort engines, orbital maneuvering and attitude control engines and reaction control system engines. Boeing will assemble hardware kits into the service module section of the Starliner spacecraft at its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. While Boeing develops and manufactures Starliners, SpaceX is doing the same with its own spacecraft, Crew Dragon. Both companies plan to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast on missions to the International Space Station. With up to four astronauts at a time, plus more than 200 pounds of cargo, the new line of spacecraft will allow the station’s crew to grow to seven. That addition gives astronauts In orbit another 35 hours of research time to enhance the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory.

Boeing Evaluates Starliner Flight Deck Designs

Ergonomic evaluations inside the CST-100 Starliner with Boeing's Chris Ferguson. (Credit: Boeing)
Ergonomic evaluations inside the CST-100 Starliner with Boeing’s Chris Ferguson. (Credit: Boeing)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Boeing is evaluating the flight deck designs for its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as development work continues toward the final layout of the seating and control panels.

Former astronaut Chris Ferguson, now deputy program manager and director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, is performing the tests that look into a number of factors of comfort and usability for the systems.

The Starliner is being developed by Boeing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to take astronauts to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will launch into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, just a few miles from the Starliner’s assembly factory at Kennedy Space Center.

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Astronauts, Mission Control Simulate Starliner Commercial Crew Flight

Commerical Crew Program astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe perfoming and on-console simulation of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner at Johnson Space Center. (Credit: NASA)
Commerical Crew Program astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe perfoming and on-console simulation of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner at Johnson Space Center. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Commercial Crew Program astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe joined flight director Richard Jones and his NASA/Boeing flight control team in the first Mission Control Center, Houston, on-console simulation of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner launch, climb to orbit and post-orbital insertion timeline.

The ascent simulation included a training team inserting problems remotely from a nearby building, which allowed the team to follow checklists and procedures to solve issues that could arise during a dynamic, real-flight situation.

Boeing has an agreement in place with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to provide flight control and facility expertise in managing missions of the Starliner and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Simulations covering all aspects of human space flight control have been conducted for every human space flight and prepare the astronauts and flight controllers for the real flights.

Behnken and Boe along with Doug Hurley and Suni Williams are integrated as a group with Boeing and SpaceX on its Dragon crew vehicle through the development phase and first test flights. Specific crew assignments have not yet been announced. Read more about the advances NASA’s Commercial Crew Program have made in 2016: http://go.nasa.gov/24QDPuA

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Commercial Crew Manufacturing Gains Momentum Coast to Coast

Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
Technicians lower the upper dome of a Boeing Starliner spacecraft onto a work stand inside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The upper dome is part of Spacecraft 1, a Starliner that will perform a pad abort flight test as part of the development process of the spacecraft in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

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

Manufacturing facilities are in operation on the east and west coasts to build the next generation of spacecraft to return human launch capability to American soil. Over the past six months, Boeing and SpaceX – the companies partnered with NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station – each have begun producing the first in a series of spacecraft.

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