Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

NewSpace 2010: Orbital Spaceflight

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 23, 2010

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - a seven-person space shuttle designed for orbital flight.

Orbital Spaceflight Session

Dennis Stone – NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo
Philip McAlister
– NASA Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation
Mark Sirangelo –
Sierra Nevada Corp.
Jim Muncy
– Space Frontier Foundation

Philip McAlister
NASA Headquarters

Commercial Crew Development (CCDEV) program

  • Vision – routine access to space for humans
  • NASA fund R&D on multiple systems
  • Result would be at least two redundant systems for crew transport
  • NASA doesn’t have to be “all-in” on a single system
  • CCDEV benefits
    • Strengthen the international space station
    • Enhance industrial base
    • NASA could focus on beyond LEO

Business Case and Commercial Market Potential

  • Cannot with a high confidence that we can close the business case for commercial crew
  • Looking for commercial providers to put forth proposals
  • Unsure how much it’s going to cost
  • There is demand for space transportation to and from Earth orbit
  • Russia and U.S. have flown 100 astronauts from other countries since 1978
  • 8 space tourists have flown to ISS on 9 Soyuz flights
  • NASA’s future needs – 8 person flights per year with 4 more from other markets
  • Bigelow Aerospace Sundancer space station
  • Bigelow – initial 6 flights per year – ramp up to 100 by the end of the decade
  • CCDEV  Procurement – NASA received over 30 proposals – robust interest level
  • Extend the ISS to 2020 and maybe beyond – provides a steady market for transport of goods and crew

Safety Issues and Contracting Models

  • Commercial crew mission is much simpler than the Apollo-style
  • up and down space transportation and crew rescue  in LEO – similar to the Gemini program from nearly 50 years ago
  • Rocket vehicles will have a demonstrated flight history through the test program
  • NASA will be intimately involved in the development of the systems – not a “hands off” approach
  • NASA will establish high level goals and provide commercial companies with maximum flexibility in how to meet those goals
  • NASA previously owned the systems and was intimately involved in all details, including specifying what systems and subsystems to use
  • Will be intimately involved in understanding the true nature of vehicles being built
  • Not a traditional cost-plus contracting but fixed-costs with payments once milestones are met

Mark Sirangelo
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Company Overview

  • Company has been around for decades
  • “We know how to build things for space”
  • 313 missions to space to date
  • Subsystems and components
  • Leading provider of small satellites
  • Constellation work
  • NASA/NOAA Earth observation
  • Building Virgin Galactic hybrid motor

Contracting Model for Commercial Crew

  • Every company that has worked with NASA is a commercial company
  • Instead of cost plus, we’re willing to use a milestone based contract based on fixed costs with contributions from Sierra Nevada Corporation
  • Fixed price contract – more of an incentive to bring in project quickly and as safely as possible
  • Safety – we need to meet standards – not going to fly unless we do – if we don’t fly, we don’t get paid

Dream Chaser Crew Vehicle


  • $20 million from NASA to fund work
  • Vertical takeoff, horizontal landing vehicle
  • Crew of 7 – can be configured for human and cargo missions
  • Heritage – Soviet BOR-4 and NASA HL-20 vehicle……..
  • Same hybrid rocket for use on the SpaceShipTwo engine
  • Very effective motor for this application – reusable, restartable motor
  • Designed for launch on multiple launch vehicles
  • Main launch vehicle: United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V
  • Spend several years studying Atlas launches – no show stoppers technically
  • Partners: ULA, Draper Labs, Boeing Phantom Works, MDA, Aerojet, NASA Langely, NASA Ames, SNC, Colorado University, AdamWorks

Potential Uses

  • ISS and private space station supply and crew transfer
  • Unmanned or piloted flights
  • Tourism and commercial operations
  • Orbital test bed for testing products and equipment
  • Satellite repair/deployment
  • Military variants
  • Suborbital research
  • 10,000 foot runway at less than two G’s
  • Cargo down-mass from space station
  • Rapid turnaround


  • Constructing the vehicle now
  • “The difference between paper and actually touching something is amazing.”
  • Expecting tests to begin next year
  • Operational date: 2014

Jim Muncy
Space Frontier Foundation

  • Many restrictions placed on NASA to conduct studies and evaluation on commercial crew before they can enter into contracts on commercial crew
  • If you’re worried about exporting jobs to Russia and a big gap in U.S. flights, why put all these restrictions on commercial crew? Why make them not start for a year?
  • Myth 1: The only way commercial will work if there’s a huge market.
    • Not true.
    • Gemini vs. Apollo standards
    • Fixed-price contract
    • Commercial companies always motivated to find customers – entrepreneurs will take risks
    • Limited number of commercial Soyuz launches since 2001 is a matter of a lack of supply (available seats) rather than demand (billionauts)
  • Military Personnel Transport Analog
    • Military personnel get on a domestic flight to go to their military base in the United States
    • They then get on a commercially chartered flight to go overseas
    • Final leg of the flight is done on a military vehicle
    • U.S. should be able to use a similar commercial system to get astronauts into LEO – government could handle transport beyond that point

Questions & Answers Session

Q. How to Define Success?

Philip McAlister: Multiple vehicles going to multiple locations in LEO
Mark Sirangelo: Ditto
Jim Muncy: Let private industry do the orbital work, frees up government to go beyond LEO.

Q: What are some of the key risks and biggest fears?

Philip McAlister: The biggest risks are NOT technical – companies are capable of doing it. The biggest risk is on the business side

Mark Sirangelo: The biggest challenge is not technical. Big uncertainty involves regulations and standards – building something now without really knowing what the final standards will be for operations and safety.

Jim Muncy

  • “That the Republican party will screw it up.”
  • “That the White House will give up and not fight for its vision.”
  • “That we not do everything we can do to make it clear that this is a revolution but it’s not a revolution. This is how we do everything else. Why should it be different?”
  • When entitlements crunch come, there won’t be any money to invest – if it’s just about pork, there may not be enough money to seed anything.

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