NASA Explores Commercial Crew Contingencies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, continue to develop the systems that will return human spaceflight to the United States. Both commercial partners are undertaking considerable amounts of testing in 2018 to prove space system designs and the ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirement for regular crew flights to the International Space Station.

“The work Boeing and SpaceX are doing is incredible. They are manufacturing spaceflight hardware, performing really complicated testing and proving their systems to make sure we get it right.” said Kathy Lueders, program manager NASA Commercial Crew Program. “Getting it right is the most important thing.”

Both Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without crew to the space station prior to test flights with a crew onboard this year. After each company’s test flights, NASA will work to certify the systems and begin post-certification crew rotation missions. The current flight schedules for commercial crew systems provide about six months of margin to begin regular, post-certification crew rotation missions to the International Space Station before contracted flights on Soyuz flights end in fall 2019.

As part of the agency’s normal contingency planning, NASA is exploring multiple scenarios as the agency protects for potential schedule adjustments to ensure continued U.S. access to the space station. One option under consideration would extend the duration of upcoming flight tests with crew targeted for the end of 2018 on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The flights could be extended longer than the current two weeks planned for test flights, and likely less than a six-month full-duration mission. The agency also is assessing whether there is a need to add another NASA crew member on the flight tests.

This would not the first time NASA has expanded the scope of test flights. NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial demonstration flight to the International Space Station in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. This decision allowed NASA to ensure the crew aboard the space station had the equipment, food and other supplies needed on the station after the end of the agency’s Space Shuttle Program.

As with all contingency plans, the options will receive a thorough review by the agency, including safety and engineering reviews. NASA will make a decision on these options within the next few months to begin training crews.

  • SamuelRoman13

    Good news.

  • ThomasLMatula

    If this is suppose to be commercial flight why is NASA certifying it and not the FAA CST? NASA doesn’t certify a b737 before an employee flies on it 🙂

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    It seems that there is one prior reason for the delay in delivering CC being underfunding by Congress for most of the program whilst the current delays are being due to: lack of NASA resources to complete paperwork as well as extending the testing regime for both partners. I’m not sure about Boeing but SpaceX have a vehicle already successfully delivering and returning cargo to the ISS. They haven’t had a failure of this vehicle in any of their deliveries. They did have a launch vehicle issue which to all intents and purposes has been rectified.
    So the upshot is that the delays are being caused by NASA and not the companies.
    In addition we have those two other government agencies: the ASAP and GOA, submitting what are essentially outdated reports on both companies using outdated and irrelevant arguments belonging to the past.
    In closing I’ll refer you to this excellent article by Robert Zimmerman which sets out why NASA needs to look seriously at how it’s current risk-averse culture is condemning itself to irrelevance wrt HSF. Private organisations will deliver human spaceflight in the future, not NASA.

  • Well, one of them is a distraction at any rate.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Garbage! It always seems to be the government’s fault when private industry (and all contractors are really private businesses, the government doesn’t own any of them) can’t deliver in their own projected time frames. Never heard a single contractor complain about late payments but plenty of payments were delayed because both Boeing, SNC and SpaceX couldn’t meet their milestones on time. To be fair to the manufacturers, it wasn’t as easy to build these spacecraft and man-rate them as they thought. Some slippage is usually inevitable and they are finally getting close to flying the products that they projected would fly years ago. So, if money was the problem, why didn’t they go out and secure private funding? After all, if the market is so lucrative, why not beat the competition by years and get the lion’s share of the contracts? The simple explanation is that the commercial manned spaceflight market does not yet exist for anything but government rides. Bigelow doesn’t have a habitat to fly and private interests aren’t beating down his doors looking to lease space in a functioning B330.

    I agree that eventually private companies will manufacture spacecraft and the government will buy some and may lease others but the only thing that will let this nascent industry bloom is private money financing private projects that private parties will pay for and use.

    As for NASA slowing down the process, they are the only customer and have every right to set standards when they are putting their astronauts on a vehicle that they are either owning outright or lease. The government is under no obligation whatsoever to be more risk-accepting for the benefit of private profit.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Terry. You didn’t read my post nor the article I linked to.
    CC is a contract with NASA and funding from other sources was never agreed to by NASA. The milestones slipped mainly due to NASA extending them because they didn’t have the funding due to Congress short-changing for most of the program up until recently and NASA adding additional testing requirements.
    NASA has also become so risk-averse that they can’t move away from outdated methods and procedures and they have also recently admitted that they don’t have the internal resources to finalise the paperwork required to sign off on internal testing undertaken by the companies.
    Bigelow for one, isn’t putting habs in space until he has two crew suppliers period nor will anyone else and he’s not in the launch business anyway.
    Ultimately Congress and NASA are to blame for the delays, not the companies.
    As I mentioned in my post, SpaceX already has a capsule successfully transporting cargo to and from the ISS and there is limited life support on that vehicle now. IIRC SpaceX have also already finalised their ECLSS.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I read your post and, eventually, the article. When I clicked on the link I found that it was a published on a right-wing blog. Regardless, I read the article and found it to be full of opinion and derision and short on facts. As a liberal Democrat, I would have liked to see more funding as did President Obama. However, SpaceX was designing Crew Dragon for it’s own purposes and not just to use as a space taxi. I’m still not sure why Boeing got into the business. 🙂 Neither company was prevented from putting more of their own funds into development but NASA didn’t create their engineering difficulties. If they needed more money to solve real problems, there was plenty of private money out there. I too hate that programs are being hindered by delays in approving paperwork but its not as if the paperwork was handed in on time in the first place.

    I take it from your Bigelow comment that you agree that there is yet no private market for his product which remains untested. Also under the miscellaneous category, while the U.S. government will neither lease nor own the space taxis, hopefully the companies will be building vehicles that the government will buy for their exclusive use. So whether they’re buying or renting, as the only current customers and financial contributors as well as the folks who are going to issue licenses, they have the right to dictate safety standards.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And that was always the danger of Commercial Crew, that it would degrade into being another government program with little applications to commercial needs. It really raised the cost and reduced the commercial value when NASA put surprise standards in place that required Dragon2 to land in water. No wonder Elon Musk is refocusing on the BFR which is design for commercial needs.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I’m not sure it is even advanced enough to degrade as there are presently no commercial needs to satisfy. You have to have a commercial market to have needs and outside of flying rich tourists on joy rides there are no places to go and nothing to do when you get there except look out the window and take pretty pictures. Before commercial space can flourish as an industry, they need to profitably make things and either ship them back to Earth or use them in situ. This frontier is more like the bottom of the ocean than the new world and despite its vast resources, nobody has yet figured out how to live and work profitably on the seabed.

    As for Dragon 2, Musk’s initial announcement called if the capsule to land in the water until the propulsive landing system could be perfected. NASA hasn’t dictated that he change the design to force it to land in the water. For now the engineering challenge of propulsive landing is what is dictating that Dragon land in the water. Musk is not in a position to wait for propulsive landing capability. The taxpayers who helped pay for this system have the right to see it safely flying ASAP, not when Elon is finished tweaking it.

  • SamuelRoman13

    Might not land in water. Musk said that the fairings would land in a catchers mitt on a boat and he was offering to NASA to catch Dragons. So cheaper than using a helicopter like ULA. Instead of having an airbag on Starliner, they put the airbag on the landing pad. Got to have good wave conditions for water landing anyway, so running a boat should not be a problem. Might have a gyro platform. Crew just step on a deck. not get wet and Dragon also. After they get there land legs of course.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I wouldn’t put anything past him – eventually.

  • duheagle

    NASA hasn’t dictated that he change the design to force it to land in the water.

    Yeah, NASA pretty much has. It has refused, for example, to allow SpaceX to land even cargo-only Dragon 2 missions propulsively on land. That was supposed to establish the safety of the procedure without risk to humans. There was no rational basis for NASA’s sudden change of mind. It seems pretty clear this was simply an opportunistic foray by senior NASA people who have decided Musk and SpaceX are threats to the agency and its legacy contractors.

    As with the Russians who ridiculed Musk when he tried purchasing rockets from them in 2001, the NASA apparatchiks who engineered this particular little coup are likely to regret it in the not very distant future. Elon Musk is not a good enemy to make.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Would you be good enough to direct me to your source on this?