NASA’s Commercial Crew Program By the Numbers

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.

Commercial Crew Contracts (Millions of Dollars)
Sierra Nevada Corp.$20.0$105.6$10.0$227.5$363.1
Blue Origin$3.7$22.0$25.6
United Launch Alliance$6.7U $6.7
Paragon Space Development Corp.$1.4$1.4
Alliant TechsystemsU$0.0
Excalibur AlmazU$0.0

CCDev-1 — Commercial Crew Development 1
CCDev-2 — Commercial Crew Development 2
CPC — Certification Products Contracts
CCiCap — Commercial Crew Integrated Capability
CCtCap — Commercial Crew Transportation Capability
U – Unfunded Space Act Agreement

Nearly $8 billion of the total has been given to two companies, Boeing and SpaceX. Boeing’s contracts have totaled $4.8 billion for the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. SpaceX has received contracts worth $3.1 billion for Crew Dragon. Sierra Nevada Corporation received $363.1 million for development of its Dream Chaser shuttle.

NASA awarded $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX for the CCtCap phase of the program. Under these contracts, the companies will complete development and testing of their vehicles and also fly commercial missions to the space station.

In the meantime, the space agency has been purchasing seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The table below shows the agency has signed contracts worth nearly $3 billion for seats through 2018.

Credit: NASA OIG
Credit: NASA OIG

During that period, the cost of Soyuz seats have been going up sharply. The per seat price in 2011 was $37.7 million. For 2018, the price has increased to $82 million per round trip.

While NASA has sent nearly $3 billion to Russia since 2011 to pay for access to ISS, Congress has cut the Obama Administration’s requested funding for commercial crew by $1.1 billion over the years.

commercial_crew_funding_0916NASA and the Obama Administration have blamed Congressional cuts for delays in the program, which was originally schedule to begin flying in 2015. The under funding has led to additional costs as NASA has been forced to buy more Soyuz seats from the Russians.

In a report released last month, the NASA Inspector General reported that delays in the program over the past two years under the CCtCap contracts are due to SpaceX and Boeing running into technical challenges with their vehicles. Further, NASA has experienced delays in its safety review process.

Commercial Cargo

Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)
Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)

Commercial crew will only fill half of NASA’s transportation needs for the space station. After losing two space shuttles and 14 astronauts to accidents, NASA decided to  separate crew and cargo into separate vehicles. To handle the cargo side, NASA embarked on two programs, Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS).

The COTS program cost NASA about $800 million. Under the program, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK) developed new boosters and cargo ships to service the space station.

SpaceX’s developed the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon supply ship — upon which Crew Dragon is based — under the COTS program. NASA contributed $396 million toward development of the vehicles. SpaceX provided $454 million of its own funding.

NASA contributed $288 million to the development of Orbital’s Antares booster and Cygnus supply ship. Orbital contributed about $500 million of its own funding to the program.

Under the CRS-1 contract, NASA originally ordered 12 Dragon supply missions at a cost of $1.6 billion. The space agency has subsequently ordered an additional eight missions. It is estimated that NASA will spend $2.7 billion for the 20 missions ordered under CRS-1.

NASA originally ordered eight Cygnus cargo missions to ISS at a cost of $1.9 billion. The space agency has since added two additional missions to the CRS-1 contract, bringing the total number of flights to 10.

The price of the additional Cygnus flights are uncertain; if the average price per launch is the same as the original order, then the total under the CRS-1 contract would be close to $2.4 billion.

In January 2016, NASA awarded CRS-2 contracts to SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corporation to provide cargo flights from 2019 to 2024. Each company is guaranteed six supply flights; NASA will order additional supply flights as needed. The program has a maximum potential value of $14 billion.