First Commercial Flights to ISS Slide Toward 2020


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Early in the classic police comedy, The Naked Gun, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is at the hospital with partner Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) visiting the critically wounded Officer Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), who had been shot and left for dead by a group of heroin smuggling thugs.

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that,” Ed tells Frank.

A similar scene played out Wednesday morning during the House Space Subcommittee’s hearing on the progress of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Only it wasn’t nearly as funny.

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Commercial Crew Schedule Margins at Risk as Much Work Remains


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s uninterrupted access to the International Space Station (ISS) could be at risk due to continued schedule slips by commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX, the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said last week.

“Based on the quantity, significance, and associated uncertainty of work remaining for both commercial providers, the Panel believes there is a very real possibility of future schedule slips that could easily consume all remaining margin,” ASAP said in its annual report. [Full Report]

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House Space Subcommittee Hearing On Commercial Crew Status Scheduled


House Subcommittee on Space Hearing

An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Space (115th Congress)

Hearing Purpose

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the NASA’s two  commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station

Witnesses:

  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs, Boeing Space Exploration
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, chair, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

NASA Commercial Crew Flights Slip Slide Toward 2019

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe evaluate Crew Dragon controls. (Credit: NASA)

Crucial flight tests for NASA’s two commercial crew vehicles are slipping ever closer to 2019. The space agency released the following updated schedules for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicles today:

Targeted Test Flight Dates

Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Boeing’s schedule has not changed from the previous update. SpaceX’s demonstration flights have slipped from April and August to August and December, respectively. No reasons have been given for the slips.

A reliable source tells Parabolic Arc that SpaceX experienced a delay several months ago due to issues with Dragon 2’s environmental control and life support system (ECLSS). The problem was estimated to delay the first demonstration flight about six months. At about that same time, the schedule for that first uncrewed flight slipped from February to April.

A SpaceX spokeswoman would not comment for the record on this report.

A Preview of Commercial Crew Activities for 2018


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

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ULA Completes Design Certification Review for Atlas V Starliner Flights

This artist concept shows Boeing’s Starliner at Space Launch Complex 41 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V poised for a night launch to the International Space Station. (Credit: Boeing)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Jan. 4, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully completed an Atlas V Launch Segment Design Certification Review (DCR) recently in preparation for the launch of astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil in The Boeing Company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. ULA’s Atlas V DCR supported the Boeing International Space Station (ISS) DCR that was held with NASA at Kennedy Space Center in early December.

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Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

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Commercial Crew Providers Face Key Safety Reviews

Credit: NASA

It’s crunch time for commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX as the companies attempt to meet NASA’s safety requirement of one possible fatal accident in 270 flights.The space agency is planning a comprehensive safety review of the spacecraft next month.

But these commercial efforts face formidable obstacles in meeting safety requirements set by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, posing policy and public-relations dilemmas for the agency’s chiefs.

Experts say NASA likely will require inspections in space to reduce the threat of catastrophic accidents, a last-ditch safeguard that it had hoped to avoid when approving the plan three years ago. Still, it is unclear is whether such on-orbit checks by NASA would alleviate dangers from space debris and tiny meteor fragments, say experts inside and outside the agency….

The commercial designers are seeking to alleviate other risks. They are concerned that extra shielding to better safeguard equipment and crews from collisions with debris could make spacecraft too heavy. They also are examining risks associated with vibrations during launch, explosives that deploy parachutes, vulnerabilities of heat shields and other issues.

But their biggest safety challenge stems from the thousands of tiny meteors or space particles now prevalent in space that can damage or penetrate the space capsules. Traveling at approximately 17,000 miles an hour, even a paint chip can spark disaster. Boeing partly addressed this by changing its design to install Kevlar backing. SpaceX is relying on other features.

Atlas V for First Starliner Flight Coming Together in Alabama

The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: ULA)

DECATUR, Ala. (NASA PR) — The Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is coming together inside a United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama.

The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is intended to prove the design of the integrated space system prior to the Crew Flight Test. These events are part of NASA’s required certification process as the company works to regularly fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing and United Launch Alliance have begun conducting integrated reviews of components, software and systems along with decades of Atlas data to ensure integrated vehicle test simulations are similar to real-life conditions during missions. Starliners for the uncrewed and crew test flights, including for the pad abort test, are in various stages of production and testing.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, as they each develop unique systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the space station. SpaceX is developing the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing’s Starliner will liftoff on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Commercial Crew Schedule Slip Slides to the Right

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers. [Emphasis mine]

Targeted Test Flight Dates:

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: November 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: April 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): August 2018

Editor’s Note: Note the careful wording of this latest press release: “most recent publicly releasable dates.” So, how far are the latest slips? Here is where they were in July.

Previous Targeted Test Flight & Milestone Dates (July 20, 2017):

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Operational Readiness Review: September 2018
Certification Review: October 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: February 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): June 2018
SpaceX Operational Readiness Review: August 2018
Certification Review: September 2018

SpaceX’s flights have slipped by two months. The Boeing automated flight has slipped by two months and the crew flight by three months. Boeing officials said last week that the second flight could slip in 2019.

The operational readiness reviews and certification reviews are necessary before the companies can begin flying astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

Drop Tests at NASA Langley Help Boeing’s Starliner Prepare to Land Astronauts

https://www.nasa.gov/langley/feature/drop-tests-at-nasa-langley-help-boeing-starliner-prepare-to-land-astronauts

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, a mock-up of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft has endured a series of land landing qualification tests to simulate what the actual spacecraft and crew members may experience while returning to Earth from space.

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IAC Updates: Starliner, Rocket Lab and Long March 5

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The International Astronautical Congress has been going on all week down in Adelaide, Australia. In addition to Elon Musk’s presentation on Friday and some news I’ve already posted here, there have been a few updates on various programs.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner.  Boeing is aiming for a test flight of the CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station in the third quarter of 2018. However, the first crewed test flight could slip from the fourth quarter of 2018 into the first quarter of 2019.  Link

Rocket Lab. The company’s next test launch will carry will two Dove Cubesats from Planet and a pair of Lemur CubeSsats from Spire Global. The satellite will allow Rocket Lab to test deploying spacecraft from the second stage of its Electron rocket. The launch is planned for several weeks from now. Link

Long March 5. The failure of a Long March 5 booster in July will delay the launch of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, which had been scheduled for November. The Chang’e-4 mission, which will land on the far side of the moon, also will be delayed. That flight had been scheduled for late next year. The accident investigation is ongoing. Link

Boeing Commercial Crew Progress & Schedule

Boeing’s CST-100 Structural Test Article ready for shipment from C3PF to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California. (Credit: Boeing)

The following slides are from a recent NASA update on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew effort. The company is currently schedule to fly an automated flight to the International Space Station next June followed by a test flight with crew two months later.
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Updated Boeing Commercial Crew Schedule

Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)
Boeing CST-100 docking at ISS. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing would conduct the first orbital test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in June 2018 in the latest Commercial Crew Program schedule unveiled by NASA this week.

The automated flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) would be followed by a crewed flight test to ISS in August 2018. If all goes well, CST-100 Starliner would be certified by NASA to carry crews to the orbiting outpost in October 2018.

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