Bridenstine Sees First Crew Dragon Flight Slipping into Spring

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

USA Today reports that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes the SpaceX Crew Dragon flight test scheduled for Jan. 7 will likely slip into spring.

That would mean the mission, which will not have a crew aboard for its flight to the International Space Station, would launch no sooner  than the first day of spring on March 20.

Bridenstine’s acknowledgment that January is a “very low probability” window is the first time the agency has publicly cast doubt on the timing of the scheduled launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test flight of the SpaceX rocket and capsule is a key step in NASA’s efforts to resume U.S. transport to Earth’s orbit nearly a decade after the space shuttle was mothballed.

The administrator attributed the delay to challenges with several components, including landing parachutes. Some of those systems could be tested without flying them on the initial flight.

It’s a matter of determining “what configuration are we willing to accept as an agency and are we willing to waive certain items (and) how do we test those items,” Bridenstine told reporters at NASA headquarters.

But he said the test flight “will certainly be in the first half of 2019,” a schedule that still would accommodate a crewed flight by the end of the year.

Parabolic Arc earlier reported that not all of Dragon’s systems would be ready in time for the first flight.

A flight test of Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard is currently scheduled for June 2019. NASA would then certify the vehicle to carry astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

Boeing is scheduled to test its Starliner spacecraft with an automated test in March and a flight with crew in August. NASA could extend the crewed flight from a brief stay at the space station to a long-duration mission.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are scheduled to conduct abort tests in between their automated and crewed flight tests. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test; Boeing’s abort test will be conducted from a launch pad.

NASA needs to have at least one of the crew systems functional by January 2020. That is when the last agency astronaut to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle on a paid basis is set to return.

  • Aerospike

    I get why everybody is super cautious with the first commercial crew flights, but I really don’t get all that fuss about parachutes.

    FFS, Dragon 1 has been landing with parachutes for 8 years now!
    And the ‘chutes for Dragon 2 have been tested multiple times. How can they possibly not be ready by now?

  • Robert G. Oler

    well…the Dragon 1 spacecraft have had “consistent” issues with the chutes…the problem from a safety standpoint is that the “problems” with the chutes are within limits but “consistent”…and near the limits.

    also evidence is mounting that SpaceX had a massive failure of the chutes on a Dragon 2 test drop…ie that they had serious riser issues on the four chute deployment

    I oppossed this when the safety audit thing first came out…but well not so much anymore

  • Robert G. Oler

    SpaceX has had CONSISTENT parachute issues. I know the spaceX fans have minimized this..but its real

    they have had consistent Dragon 1 failures which are in spec but at the
    limit of spec…and consistent. Also there are issues that have been
    brought to NASA safety on commercial crew from SpaceX employees who have
    been concerned about the way the issues are treated in house

    Second…there are persistent rumors which I think have some truth in
    them that SpaceX suffered a pretty solid failure of a four chute
    deployment on Dragon2 test.

    FInally there are significant and
    major systems that are not being evaluated on the SpaceX uncrewed demo.
    this is included some environmental issues. these are the waivers that
    NASA is talking about.

    I dont have the final word on this yet, but the Administrator must

    I was critical of him (NASA) calling a safety review of both Boeing and
    Space X but as time has gone on…I am more and more convinced this is a
    good idea.

    Boeing has some issues but I am told (and believe)
    that Boeing SAfety in Seattle is dealing with this and NASA safety is so
    far pleased with how that is going.

    the SpaceX fans at the various sites must be imploding now 🙂

    Fly Safe is not just a phrase.

  • Jeff2Space

    I appreciate your technical insights into these issues.

    That said, I seriously doubt that SpaceX fans who understand these sorts of issues are “imploding now”. It’s frustrating that we’re down to the wire and seeing delays, but again, anyone who understands these things knows delays like this are part of working with NASA. NASA has become a lot more risk averse than they were in the 1960s and have processes, procedures, and piles of paperwork that contractors have to go through when anything is “crew certified”.

    I’m sure Dragon 2 will eventually fly with a crew. NASA has been burned too many times by having a single point of access to space. I don’t think they’ll be satisfied with only Starliner flying because that would mean depending on the Russian Soyuz as a backup. We’ve seen some very high profile issues with Russian launches over the last 5 to 10 years, so depending on them going forward wouldn’t be a good thing.

  • Aerospike

    Why is nobody covering this? I have never heard anything about those issues before.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    NSF usually has the inside running with these things but nothing that I can find. Do you have a definitive source other than rumours?
    cheers
    Neil

  • echos of the mt’s

    They have never had any chute issues with the cargo flights, have they?

  • Kirk

    evidence is mounting that SpaceX had a massive failure …

    Any evidence at all beyond that single (anonymous?) post in the Facebook group? “the reason you haven’t seen anything on here/twitter about them doing parachute drop tests recently is because there was a chute failure and that test article no longer exists after a ballistic impact with the desert floor.

    NASA ASAP discussion at the 4Q meeting certainly didn’t suggest anything as serious as that. I’m not saying that the observed anomalies on the otherwise successful landings shouldn’t be taken seriously, and that if they do call for a parachute system redesign, that wouldn’t be reason for a delay in DM-1. I’m just questioning this one report which I’ve not seen corroborated anywhere.

  • Michael Halpern

    Because they don’t exist

  • Michael Halpern

    I also think they will try to push the certification for the reef cutters through this is just a low key CYA, seeing how ASAP has never been spevspec about parachute issues…

  • ThomasLMatula

    Because NASA just “discovered” it had missed a bunch of paperwork on Dargon2. So sorry, we thought you had signed everything, but here are a couple thousand more forms to review and sign 😊

  • ThomasLMatula

    It would be interesting if it slips more and Elon Musk starts his test hops with the Starship before it flies😄

  • 76 er

    “…safety audit thing…”

    Exactly. It’s an undefined “thing”. Gerstenmaier said the safety review was to determine if the firm’s “culture” was reflective of the quality of the spacecraft they were building. He didn’t point to any specific technical issue where an objective test could be run to determine if specs were met – for either Boeing or SpaceX. How does one define or measure culture? “Culture” as a concept is 100% subjective.

  • duheagle

    Absent any specifics – and you’ve supplied none – I feel free to regard this as simply more fabulism by someone who can’t even admit that SpaceX has accomplished what it has obviously accomplished anent booster recovery and reuse. Easy to cite “rumors,” especially if you’re the one floating them.

    This entire “safety revue” thing seems pretty transparently a sop to NASA and Congressional Swamp old-timers who want to keep SpaceX from flying Dragon 2 as long as possible:

    (1) to allow Boeing to dig itself out of the hole it has gotten into entirely on its own, most recently anent its launch escape system, and,

    (2) so that the lack of any “issues” with D2 will not become manifest as will certainly be the case once D2 actually flies.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX having failed to provide any real problems for its detractors to whinge about, the latter are busily doing what they usually do – making stuff up out of whole cloth and pretending it’s the product of “sources.”

  • Jeff Smith

    Don’t worry, it’s ok. We understand the erosion in the SRB o-rings – we’ve characterized it and it’ll be fine. And we understand the foam shedding too – we we’ve characterized it and it’ll be fine.

    Yeah. Famous last words. Fix the problems.

  • Robert G. Oler

    yes. I have friends directly in Boeing and NASA safety office. I have a few blue suit friends who are at SpaceX dealing with a US military payload. very good sources.

    I’ve been saying this for quite a bit

  • Robert G. Oler

    bull…in the SpaceX fan world the entire “cable” is all against poor tiny spaceX which is just doing wonderful stuff …sorry you are a fan boy who is not very rigorous in most things

    everything I have said about the chutes has been cautious (I changed my position on this) and has been proven out.

    all you have is babble. you are one of the crowd who thinks that BFR will fly for 7 million dollars fan boy

  • Robert G. Oler

    L2 and NASA spaceflight is a fan site for SpaceX and the folks there have to keep the fans happy with good news or coat bad news in conspiracy

  • duheagle

    Cite specifics – if you can – and we’ll talk. Dark hints about “consistent problems” that are nonetheless within specs are BS. Specs are how one usually judges whether or not something is actually a problem. If something is actually a problem and also within spec, then you’ve actually got two problems, one with the thing and the other with the spec. Is that what you are alleging here? Once more, specifics please.

    As for “massive failure,” there are plenty of videos on YouTube of parachute tests of Dragon 2, Starliner and Orion. The “massive failure” must not be numbered among them. When was this disaster supposed to have taken place?

    As for more subtle “problems,” can you point out any such on extant videos of said parachute tests? Any, that is that are exclusively Dragon 2’s and not just something that also shows up in Starliner and/or Orion parachute test videos?

  • duheagle

    I’m all in favor of fixing actual problems. I’m not in favor of hunting snipe.

  • Robert G. Oler

    silly complete fan boy

  • duheagle

    The entire legacy aerospace establishment – including their numerous Congressional lackies – would like to crush SpaceX before the various legacy space divisions are rendered just so much road kill. This is so obvious by inspection as to hardly be worthy of special comment. Unable to engineer spacecraft and rockets, they instead engineer rumor campaigns and pay for op-ed hit pieces by “consultants” of easy virtue.

    Your statements about chutes have been anything but cautious. You have baldly, and repeatedly, asserted that there are “problems” with Dragon 2’s chutes. What you haven’t been is specific as to what these alleged “problems” actually are. I say it’s because you’re talking out your arse and there are no specifics. You can shut me up easily by ponying up. Failing that, have the good grace to hold your water.

    As to the economics of Super Heavy and Starship, you are correct that I see no barriers to a completely reusable system besting the per-mission costs of a completely expendable predecessor – even a much smaller one. You, of course, are unable to believe any of this as your lodestar anent what is possible in aerospace is the corpulent and increasingly senile Boeing organization. You are at least consistent in disbelieving SpaceX’s future economics anent Super Heavy and Starship – you don’t even believe the current economics of Falcons 9 and Heavy.

  • duheagle

    You’ve been called, flyboy. Put your cards on the table or fold.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I think most of them understate the problem and overstate the complicated issue between NASA and its service providers.

    NASA is playing the role ofthe FAA here in essentially certifying the vehicles as safe so “their people” can get in them…and they are doing this will little or no “levers” on how the process is carried out

    Dont mistate me for a fan of NASA safety in general I have both op eds and professional work (whichcost me some in my career) being quite critical of the mockery which was shuttle safety office and MOD in general.

    BUT the legacy “line” of “well spaceX would do this right now except the bureacrates or the paper work or the insert any excuse here” is just the rant of people who have no clue what safety is and how it is achieved.

    I’ve participated in at least 4 major certification efforts with commercial aircraft, two at the manager level, endless Part 121 and part 142 certifications and the “paper work” is everything. It is representative of the process by which “you” have gone to satisfy compliance with both the regulations and safe operating procedures…

    and SpaceX knew what NASA wanted and needed and has according to several sources, ones I trust been careless in that..

    couple this with the parachute issue…which I am convinced is geniune, particularly with the issues of a crewed dragon needing 4…which takes space X outside their knowledge base…well there is cause for concern

    SpaceX is essentially a software company…there is the mentality (this from one of my blue suit friends who is at Hawthorne) “of another update, another revision when you find out there are problems”

    aviation and other safety systems are far different than that…and SpaceX I think is having a hard time grasping that.

    put it another way. Lets say one of the two launches astronauts and something “stupid” happens and either the mission fails and or people die.

    OK where do you think the “sXXX storm” is going to happen?

  • Robert G. Oler

    you might try the technique of taking your finger to the screen and pointing at the word you are trying to read and thinking about what it means

    I have been very cautious about the Dragon 2 failure. but everything I see on a near hourly basis is confirming the issue with a chute (one of them) deployment failure and riser issues)

    Dragon 1 failures are of record. Now I have them from a source at NASA safety and SpaceX wont release them…but they are quite real. they are consistent, in specs but nearly not so…and have trends which are disturbing.

    “As to the economics of Super Heavy and Starship, you are correct that I
    see no barriers to a completely reusable system besting the per-mission
    costs of a completely expendable predecesso”

    that explains it…Musk cannot even come up with a design for the second stage that last for more than a few months…and yiou dont see any issues.

    fan boy

    “- you don’t even believe the current economics of Falcons 9 and Heavy.” I am skeptical SpaceX is losing money and not lowering cost that tells me that the economics are “tweets”

    and we see a lot of that kind of policy

  • ThomasLMatula

    What is really funny in focusing on the parachutes is that unlike the Soyuz, Orion, or CST-100, the Dragon2 actually has a backup system if the chutes fail, the SuperDracos.

    Although SpaceX has given in to NASA and is doing an old Apollo style ocean landing, the SuperDracos are still are installed it since they are the Launch Abort System for it. And as Elon Musk stated last year, they still work.

    https://spacenews.com/spacex-drops-plans-for-powered-dragon-landings/

    SpaceX drops plans for powered Dragon landings
    by Jeff Foust — July 19, 2017

    ““It was a tough decision,” he said when asked about propulsive landing
    capability during a question-and-answer session. “Technically it still
    is, although you’d have to land it on some pretty soft landing pad
    because we’ve deleted the little legs that pop out of the heat shield.”

    Maybe Spacex should remind NASA of this little safety feature… It would be easy enough to cut the chutes loose on the test flight and use the SuperDracos to demonstrate it “chute out” emergency splashdown 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Pm8ZY0XJI

  • Adjure

    You tell them all Robert!
    Welcome to the club.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Given the lack of tests I’ll bet the option is not even there for propulsive landing in the event of major chute malfunction. Unless it’s tested and drilled by the crew no manned flight program is going to have all that software standing out as an unknown untested variable.

  • ajp

    How on Earth can you say with a straight face that 4 parachutes are outside of SpaceX’s knowledge base?

    Supersonic retropropulsion – yes

    Well characterized industry knowledge – no?

    Maybe there are parachute issues (without a shred of evidence), but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing.

    Your CLEAR bias that they are “essentially a software company” is ridiculous. Elon may be socially inept and persistently his own worst enemy, but SpaceX is a technologically advanced aerospace company. Period.

    It’s a shame you can’t help them with the certification process. You clearly understand everything about everything.

  • redneck

    Are you sure he is actually a pilot? Certain of the gaps in knowledge strike me as odd. Particularly the insistence that paperwork trumps all, which runs counter to the attitudes of the pilots I know personally. Most of them are unhappy with the near impossibility of getting modern gear certified in a timely and affordable manner. RGO seems unaware of this problem that kills GA pilots every year.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Remember the failure of a D1 launch. EM stated that all they’d needed was a line of code and they would have saved the payload. Well I can’t see them not having the landing capability included as it is again, only software.
    The hardware, as stated already, is in place for launch abort and they’ve already proved out the hover and landing. I’d lay money it’s in place.
    Cheers
    Neil

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Your reasoning holds pretty well so long as it’s only cargo on the line. I don’t think the HSF community will buy into the argument. They’ll see it as a untested unverified part of the system that may trigger at an unknown time for unknown reasons given the lack of tests and certification. I think they’d consider the risk of that happening to be greater than the risk of having the certified systems fail to the point of losing a crew in the last 25000 ft. If they thought the chances of the certified systems failing so badly that a shot in the dark “insurance policy” was an improvement on the system, I don’t think they’d rate the system ready for manned flight.

  • voronwae

    That’s just silly. NSF is a fan site for space travel, period. If there are problems, I actually do have a very tough time believing they wouldn’t show up in L2 pretty early on. If your well-placed friends are making correct statements, they must be very high up indeed to know about something that isn’t making it into L2 discussions.

    Secondly, you also have a highly-distorted concept of how software engineering works. It ain’t what you think.

    Regarding your assessment of SpaceX as a software company, that’s ignorant hyperbole. SpaceX has demonstrated its hardware engineering prowess many times over, enough to earn the respect of anyone with the faintest knowledge about how difficult all of this is. Maybe it’s just been too long since you did any engineering.

    If you truly have so little respect for what SpaceX has accomplished, you’re very ignorant indeed. And if you’re just throwing rhetoric to assert your expertise, then you’re unscrupulous. Perhaps it’s time you reassessed yourself, not SpaceX.

  • voronwae

    When ULA cracked 12 launches in a single year, I thought that was a major accomplishment. I still do. Tomorrow’s launch will be #20 for SpaceX for 2018, a good indication of their engineering skills.

    Regarding economics, if I were running SpaceX, I would keep my prices lower than the competition’s but high enough to fund development as fully as possible. That’s about where they are. They’ve obviously lowered launch costs – not one launch company in the world has lower prices – and they have a high-quality product.

    There’s a huge threat coming directly at SpaceX. Remember that SpaceX is already getting competition from Blue Origin, and Blue has much, much deeper pockets. If they don’t develop as quickly as possible right now, Blue will put them out of business in a few years in just the same manner that they are currently sinking their competitors.

    Going bigger is the only possible solution, and if SpaceX misses the mark with BFR they lose. While I find the changes every few months irritating and worrisome, I also acknowledge that they’re trying to develop an enormous rocket on a small budget against a very tight clock, AND I’m privy to decisions along the way that no other company would bother sharing.

    In summary, SpaceX is facing a huge threat. They have to be agile.
    Your assertions tell me that you have either not thought this through or you’ve never had a business of your own, or both.

  • Kirk

    We’re now getting unofficial word of a 10 day delay to 17 Jan., 2019 — not due to any administrative safety concerns, but in order to push that launch past the CRS-16 return date.

    https://twitter.com/thesheetztweetz/status/1070112522626306049

    During yesterday’s pre-launch press conference, Hans Koenigsmann said while they could handle both capsules on station at once, they wanted to avoid having to do so with these flights. Given the nature of the DM-1 test flight, they wanted their teams to be able to concentrate all their attention on that without the distraction of the Dragon 1.

    This looks like the first realistic date I’ve seen … assuming SpaceX gets whatever waivers are required. However Administrator Bridenstine comments suggest that may not be the case.

  • windbourne

    I doubt that SX will do that. That would likely cause issues with NASA and DoD.

  • windbourne

    RGO is commercial pilot, though he does hate to say which airline, etc. I am guessing that he is flying small jets.

  • windbourne

    if you are going to resort to name calling, why keep them so simple?
    Go for :
    SnowFlake. Liberal.
    Or you can really do better. Try:
    Jew Boy. N****&*(

    U might just go ahead and go all the way for what you really want to say.

    Or you might just stick to the subject and quit dragging red herrings, resorting to ad hominems, and multiple other logic breaks.

  • redneck

    That must be why I hear the lyrics from “I’m so much cooler online” when I read some of his claims.

  • Robert G. Oler

    No…part of the fan boy fantasy

  • Robert G. Oler

    Culture is no subjective if you are a safety professional. Which I am 🙂

    Culture is in large measure how dissenting opinions from the company line are dealt with in evaluating safety risk. 🙂 Jack could have been saved 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    Exactly you nailed it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    LOL the fantasy Starship

  • Robert G. Oler

    I stand by what I wrote

    SpaceX is a company that is still learning aerospace methods and safety standards and trying to shed its software company foundation.

    They are in my view doing a pretty good job of doing that and creating an aerospace culture in the organization…but they have some way to go

    As for certification…sorry no. I am pretty heavily involved in B77X certification and 1) it is far more important and 2) far more lucrative for my family 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    After 10 years as a Test Pilot at a major aviation company in SEattle I joined a major airline in Istanbul as a B777 Captain now TRI/TRE and am heavily involved in PBN And 77X certificaiton. Widen your world 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    Continued flight into IMC conditions by non IMC rated pilots 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    NSF is a fan site for fan boys and fan boys get excited about particular things and it starts to dominate the site. A few years ago it was as KC from NASA watch put it “non rocket scientist trying to design a rocket” (I recall they called it Jupiter) and today its all the “we are going to Mars folks” caught up in their fantasy of a 7 milllion dollar per flight BFR/BFS whatever it is called now

    My view of software engineering comes from decades of being involved with heavily software oriented programs AND trying to manage those projects…

    As for doing engineering. I am in B77X and PBN certification process…I mostly fly and teach and test airplanes…but well engineering is not far away

    SpaceX is a software company in its foundation. Its not a bad thing and it has served them well so far in terms of their development…because their technical “tour de force” so far has been the recovery of their first stage …which was more than anything else a software problem…ie trying to stick the autoland with limited ability to change the basic aerodynamics.

    How they did that is an amazing story in itself in terms of both redoing the software (and the foundation of the software in particular) and developing the limited aerodynamic capabilities of the rocket.

    You can see however how this has smoked them a tad (more or less trivially) in the issues that they are having with faring recovery. They are trying to solve something through software that really needs a hardware solution 🙂

    As for respect for what they have accomplished. I’ve never said or implied that.

    I have enormous respect for the notion of booster recovery. the “drill” of how they went about that is impressive. BUT what that has done for peole who are fan boys is blot out the real issues that they are having in engineering and economics

    Musk and his crowd have a “habit” of talking up their accomplishments even when they fall short or where success isunclear. The economics of first stage recovery are seemingly helpful BUT not “game changing”…ie there is zero evidence that so far the cost numbers have come down for orbital access …which have changed the dynamics of human spaceflight.

    Musk claims “gas and go” for the first stage next year. not a chance. He claims 7 million for the BFR/BFS…there is nothing to indicate that he is going to achieve that…Mars in 2024 or 26 or whenever it is now

    Not a chance

    I realize that “keeping hope alive” is essential for those who “need to believe”

    I dont. To me its all engineering and economics. Otherwise they are MD 11’s 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    The super dracos cannot be used as a back up. There is no software abort system that allows that. Sorry

  • Robert G. Oler

    Keep hope alive 🙂