Another Slip in the SpaceX Crew Dragon Schedule?

Credit: Spaceflightnow.com

It looks as though SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon could be delayed an additional four months to March 2018, according to an update to  Spaceflightnow.com’s normally reliable launch schedule.

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) review of major NASA projects released last month had the first flight taking place in November based on data collected in January. That target was reflected in Spaceflightnow.com’s schedule until May 19.

Credit: GAO

The first flight test would go to the International Space Station (ISS) without a crew. The second flight test to the station would follow six months later in May 2018 with test pilots aboard.

A certification review would be conducted in third quarter 2018 (i.e., July to September).  Once the Crew Dragon is certified, SpaceX will be able to fly astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis under a contract with NASA.

A four-month delay would push certification into at least late 2018, which could delay the first commercial Crew Dragon flights into 2019.

Both Space CEO Elon Musk and President Gwynne Shotwell have expressed confidence over the last several months that the company will be able to fly astronauts to the station on a commercial basis in 2018.

In response to an earlier GAO report released in February,  Musk tweeted:

NASA has hedged its bets that SpaceX and Boeing — the other Commercial Crew Program partner — will be able to fly astronauts to the space station in 2018. The space agency has options for three Soyuz seats that Boeing received as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against RSC Energia, which manufactures the spacecraft.

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  • It’s the date from the Cape’s Schedule: https://twitter.com/NASASpaceflight/status/865956900709552128
    But Koenigsmann later said it’s still planned at the end of the year: https://twitter.com/jeff_foust/status/870013505071718401
    So it’s unclear.

  • windbourne

    Personally, I want to see HSF make its deadlines, BUT, given the choice of HSF making deadlines OR losing launches, I would rather see more attention to launches.

    I know that many think that SX has plenty of ppl, but I have no doubt that they have ppl moving around. SX does not operate like ULA,L-Mart, Boeing, but instead is a start-up in which a number of ppl are still wearing multiple hats.

  • windbourne

    Given cape schedule vs what a 3rd party says, I would trust the schedule. Sadly.

    It would be nice to see SX get HSF uncrewed off the ground this year, but …..

    —————— edit ———–
    Just thinking about it, I would not be surprised to find out that they have added a lot more testing to the uncrewed. The reason is that not only are they going to send crew to ISS, but also around the moon. As such, they might want to doe a lot more testing of all aspects of the systems.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Well Boeing wants NASA to buy all it’s available Soyuz seats, first. So why rush?

  • Douglas Messier

    To hell with the moon mission. The moon ain’t going anywhere. Why try to send people there next year?

    If they’re delaying crew dragon to do extra testing for a moon flight and NASA has to buy more Soyuz seats because of further delays, then you, me and everyone else is paying for SpaceX’s lack of focus on commercial crew.

  • Douglas Messier

    I’m beyond the point of taking SpaceX’s schedules very seriously.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    There you go, make an assertion without any backing and then rant about it. You still can’t tell me why Boeing is late since they are laser focused on CC program?

  • Paul_Scutts

    It would be nice to have all this development “on schedule” (SpaceX, Boeing, etc.), but, between that and “get it right”, IMO, “get it right” is much, much more important. Hope they are all successful.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The first 100 years of American spaceflight will be summed as “Delayed, But Sufficiently Persistent”.

  • Richard Malcolm

    The March date has been getting play for weeks now. I don’t think any of us would be surprised if that is how it plays out.

    It may be that this is the de facto assumption now at Hawthorne, but that they also hold out some hope that they could still shoehorn it into the end of the year.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Why try to send people there next year?

    Does anyone seriously expect that they actually will at this point?

  • Douglas Messier

    **If** they’re delaying crew dragon to do extra testing for a moon flight and NASA has to buy more…

    That’s a hypothetical in response to what windbourne had posted.

    I’ve reported on why Boeing is late. They’ve run into a number of technical problems. When there’s an update on Boeing’s schedule, I will report on that.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yes you report the facts for Boeing and save the color for SpaceX. It’s obvious reading your work. You never expound on why a company singularly focused on crew and mountains of experience can run into technical issues like this. You are also just the facts ma’am on SLS/Orion.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    To put it another way, even with these intolerable delays, they are still likely to beat Boeing/LockMart back to space. Late at being first, Doug’s big sin.

  • Douglas Messier

    Why do companies run into technical issues building something complex for the first time?

    You really need me to explain that to you?

    Your email says your at RIT. I assume that’s real. What are they teaching you there?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Ha! Have to admit I wasn’t in the history program but I do recall Boeing is now the summation of North American/Rockwell/McD, which last time I checked had some experience building/maintaining human rated spacecraft. So I have no idea where this first time came from, they are perhaps the most experienced contractor in that area.

  • Douglas Messier

    No. And that’s the issue with SpaceX’s schedules based on talking to people who know how they work.

    Koenigsmann can say they’re still planning the first Crew Dragon flight by the end of the year and be telling the truth. That is the plan. It stays the plan long after it’s clear they can’t make the target date.

    That’s not all that unusual, but it’s a particular problem there from what people have told me.

  • windbourne

    what does Boeing’s schedule have to do with SpaceX’s?
    Nothing that I see.

  • windbourne

    Come on.
    Why attack the guy when he is doing good work?
    He went after VG long ago, but VG was really BSing it and then trying to hide things.
    SpaceX really is amazing, but, you have to agree that Musk Time is a real concept and issue.
    So far, SX is amazing in what they develop and do, BUT, they are NEVER on time based on what is announced. It is always an aggressive schedule that would be difficult for an experienced company.

    But, Doug has shown over and over that he does have insider info and that he is telling us about issues that he sees.
    And this IS an issue.

  • windbourne

    For anything that has Musk involved, you should not be expecting it to be on time.
    For others, yeah.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Nothing that I see either, but someone seems able to articulate management reasons why one is delayed but not the other.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yes, he has gone after VG a lot (and rightfully so). And going after SpaceX is his prerogative no doubt. But just be real about it, he holds some sort of animus toward Musk that he doesn’t hold toward Boeing and Lockheed. There is so much to go after over there and someone gets real quiet; just the facts.

    Do you think Blue is going to be on time with BE-4? They are already 5 months behind on first firing and just blew up a power head). Do you think LM and Boeing are on time with Orion/SLS? Orion has been in development forever and still no ECLSS at the cost of over 10 billion dollars. Where is the tax payer gut outrage there? A couple of Soyuz seats aren’t the low hanging fruit my friend. And by the way, it’s just as much Boeing’s fault (if not more) that we are buying extra seats. Boeing asked for more money, has more experience and is flying on a legacy booster that has more heritage. Where is the outrage they couldn’t get the Aero model right the first time? I look at that cst-100/centaur mating adapter and it looks like a train wreck. I’m no aerodynamics expert whatsoever and I can tell you severe reverse bottle-necks on rockets are nasty.

    The question is whether you are moving the ball down field in a constructive manner and ticking off your goals (Unlike VG which has been chasing its tail for 10 years). People said SpaceX could not do a 2 week cadence, and now they are. Am I going to lose sleep over it happening this year and not last year? No, certainly since no other provider (at least in the Western world) has ever done that before. The schedules are there to keep the pressure on, so they actually do move the ball down field. It’s a feature not a bug.

  • Douglas Messier

    Thanks.

    NASA HAS complained about SpaceX not being fully focused on crew Dragon and having people assigned to that project also mutli-tasking on other projects. I believe that report based on other things I’ve heard and just by watching what they do. But, apparently it doesn’t matter.

    I can’t write a story about any problems or delays at SpaceX without people attacking me and complaining about delays at Boeing and Blue and whoever else they want to complain about.

    I have to respond to this with virtually every story about Elon and SpaceX. It’s tiresome.

  • Paul451

    For others, yeah.

    Really? You’re expecting Boeing to launch CST-100 on time? (Or anything they are doing on SLS to deliver on time? Given that they can’t even figure out how to weld the tanks yet.)

  • windbourne

    I said, I would expect. They have many decades of this work so they really have no excuse.

  • Paul451

    And yet they keep slipping right. In both programs. And in both cases, it seems to be fundamental problems with their design/manufacturing, the very things they should be immune to, given their vaunted “experience”.

    Yet Boeing’s failures are treated as “companies run into technical issues building something complex for the first time”, with a sarcastic “You really need me to explain that to you?” when someone brings it up. But SpaceX’s similar delays/set-backs are treated as deep rooted management problems of deep concern to NASA. You don’t see the double standard?

    [From what I’ve seen, Boeing has a culture of bidding on projects that they don’t actually know how to deliver. Recently seen with SLS, CST-100, the aerial tankers, etc. And yet, they’ve created a belief in bid-assessors that Boeing is the safe, reliable choice. I mean it was explicitly stated as one of their positives by NASA’s CC assessors.]

  • opmyl

    This is nothing but the Iron Triangle in practice. When scope and cost are fixed, schedule has to move to the right

  • Douglas Messier

    What do you want me to say here?

    SpaceX has run into technical challenges, Boeing has run into technical challenges. I haven’t criticized either company for those issues; I’ve merely reported upon what they are.

    SpaceX has been flying Dragon spacecraft to station for years. The whole point behind Dragon was that it would be a (relatively) easy to upgrade from cargo for crew. Shouldn’t SpaceX be further along than it is given it wasn’t starting from scratch on a brand new spacecraft?

    At one point, Musk talked about being able to do an upgrade with an escape tower and life support for some absurdly low cost. That was overselling something he couldn’t deliver on.

    You really don’t think SpaceX also oversold things, underestimated how much time and money Crew Dragon would take, and put forth schedules it couldn’t deliver on? Musk does that for everything. He’s certainly not alone in that.

  • Paul451

    He’s certainly not alone in that.

    But seems to be the only one for which it’s presented as a sign of deep management failure.

    [Aside: I’ve not (to my recollection) criticised your published articles. I was referring to your comments in response to criticism. However, if your insider sources seem to always point you in the same direction, never to the issues with Boeing for example, perhaps you should be wondering about their intent.]

  • Richard Malcolm

    Shouldn’t SpaceX be further along than it is given it wasn’t starting from scratch on a brand new spacecraft?

    Well: How do we know they aren’t?

    Even on this revised delay, they’re still a little ahead of Boeing’s notional launch dates (which I expect to slide to the right as well anyway).

    We also don’t know just what additional constraints NASA has imposed on them – or Boeing – in the meanwhile. Because this vehicle isn’t entirely designed at SpaceX’s discretion, even if it’s not on a cost-plus FAR contract.

    Musk regularly oversells things. It’s how he operates. But I would be surprised if he doesn’t get that flag on the ISS before Boeing does. Unless NASA really wants to put their thumb hard on the scale.

  • windbourne

    spacex is NOT being treated as a management issue.

    Their real issue is that they have limited resources (money and ppl) and are having to make choices where to put them.
    NASA, and others, differ with where Musk is putting his focus.

  • windbourne

    BTW, I agree with your last part WRT both Boeing and L-Mart. The old space is pushed as being the safe bet, but over and over, it seems like big bucks are wasted on them.
    As such, I think that BO and SX are about to have a good time competing against these 2.

    What should be interesting is that Musk is said to be working on an electric jet. If so, they may be coming up with something to hit both of them, first in commercial and then second in Military.

    Hopefully, we can get real competition going.

  • Douglas Messier

    I don’t know if it’s deep management failure. But, a lack of focus that NASA has complained about. Too many other things in the works, a tendency to chase shiny objects like the ITS and a moon mission while the crew Dragon schedule keeps slipping to the right. Continuous upgrades to Falcon 9 while the launch manifest slips.

  • Paul451

    a lack of focus that NASA has complained about

    A single rumour floating around, what, about a year ago? That you can’t stop repeating at every opportunity.

    Whereas NASA’s published concern about Boeing’s lack of financial commitment to the project garnered a single mention and was forgotten. And few of Boeing’s ongoing public failures since have been mentioned. (Let alone any insider information.)

    Too many other things in the works […] while the crew Dragon schedule keeps slipping to the right.

    So what’s Boeing’s excuse for their constant schedule slippage? Oh yeah, I remember…

    “Why do companies run into technical issues building something complex for the first time? You really need me to explain that to you? Your email says your at RIT. I assume that’s real. What are they teaching you there?”

    Mindless “space is hard” bullshit, followed by a sarcastic snipe at the guy’s education.

  • Douglas Messier

    > A single rumour floating around, what, about a year ago? That you can’t stop repeating at every opportunity.

    NO. It wasn’t a rumor. You have completely utterly misrepresented the report.

    It was a sourced story by Eric Berger on Ars Technica. He’s an excellent writer with great sources at NASA. The source said Boeing had a full-time team on it while SpaceX didn’t, and that they really wanted SpaceX to focus on Crew Dragon and not get distracted by other projects.

    Boeing’s lack of financial commitment to the program has been covered. NASA decided to go ahead with Boeing as the second partner despite that. What else is there to say about that.

    I’ve covered Boeing’s slips and the reasons for them. I have yet to find anything in the GAO and OIG reports or NASA’s own reports to ASAP that indicate the lack of Boeing’s own funding commitment is responsible for the delays.

  • Douglas Messier

    You know what’s repetitive? These arguments.

    I write a simple factual story about SpaceX’s slip. Instead of focusing on that, it’s an opportunity to attack Boeing and my reporting on commercial crew. Same thing over and over and over again.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Ok, but the perception of the matter isn’t solely based on your reporting but the entirety of your public statements on the matter.

  • Douglas Messier

    I get that. OK?

    This whole stupid thread got started when I responded to a theoretical musing that SpaceX might be delaying Crew Dragon to do extra testing in preparation for the moon flight. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with saying I hoped that wasn’t happening.

    It just became an excuse to re-argue complaints about my coverage of commercial crew and Boeing and Lockheed Martin that had NOTHING to do with the story.

    Rethink YOUR attitudes toward Elon Musk and SpaceX. Don’t assume every criticism of them is wrong or an unfounded rumor.