This week NASA announced that it had awarded Boeing the first Commercial Crew flight contract under the CCtCap program. However it is important to realize that while the contract has been awarded, as NASA started in the press release.
Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.
So why were Boeing selected first? This is a matter of scheduling, the Boeing CST-100 module will be launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket to ensure that they are able to launch by late 2017 they need to book the flight now to enter the processing flow. SpaceX has a shorter lead time for their rockets as they manufacture the whole system internally.
There is no denying that this is a significant step both for NASA and Boeing but as they stated there is not guarantee that just because they were awarded the first contract means they will actual fly the first contracted flight. This will be determined once future milestones in the CCtCap program have been completed and NASA can be confident that they can complete the flight when needed.
Last September NASA released a request for proposals (RFP) for a second record of contracts to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024. The proposals were due by November 14 with the awards expected in May this year. At the time of the RFP both Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) and SpaceX were flying cargo missions to ISS, however in October the third flight of Orbital’s manifest suffered a catastrophic failure resulting in the lost of the vehicle and reducing NASA to a single supplier for most of this year. This has caused NASA to have to change what is flown on SpaceX missions to compensate for the lose.
With CRS2 it is expected that both Orbital and SpaceX supplied bids however they were not the only ones with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Sierra Nevada indicating they have submitted bids.
There are definite advantages to increasing the field of suppliers to the ISS not least of which is the ability to better handle accidents during launch. Another advantage is beyond NASA and ISS as each new supplier brings competition to the market and longer team should help reduce costs for other customers. This will become increasingly important and we look beyond ISS (link). Depending on the supplier there will be other advantages too, if Sierra or Boeing are selected then there will be additional down mass from ISS something only SpaceX is able to offer today.
However there clearly are dis-advantages to having new suppliers too. Any new supplier would have to be certified to bring supplies to ISS, this will incur additional costs for NASA and the supplier. Also we don’t know when the other suppliers will be ready to supply the station, while the contracts are being awarded this May and are not due to start until 2018 they would still need to show progress to ensure NASA has the continue supply line they need.
There is also the concern that four of the five suppliers are launching their vehicles using Russian made RD-180/181 rocket engines, which with the political climate at the moment could prove to be a problem longer term. We know that United Launch Alliance (ULA) who will be providing launch services for three suppliers are planning to move away from the RD-180 engine, however this is not going to happen until at least 2019 and would require certification before actual launches could be performed, which ULA’s Tory Bruno has said could take until 2022-23, so almost the end of the CRS2 contract.
Developing an American engine by 2019, cert in 2022-23, is an aggressive schedule. The existing law leaves us no flexibility
Since the Space Shuttle completed it’s last flight the US has had to rely on Russia to launch manned missions to the International Space Station, and this will continue for at least two more years.
There are currently two countries with the ability to launch manned missions Russia and China, there are five others US, ESA, India, Iran and Japan working on programs.
India recently launched their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III vehicle, the most powerful so far, which carried the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) vehicle which is the first stage of their manned program.
The status of the other programs is unknown at this point with the plans calling for delivery in the 2020’s.
So what does this mean for the US Manned program?
At present there are four active programs for Orbital Manned Spaceflight in the US those are Boeing’s CST-100, NASA’s Orion, SNC’s Dream Chaser and SpaceX’s Dragon V2. Of these three are being funded by NASA and the four has previously been funded and is currently disputing the award to the other competitors.
Before we decide if the US is falling behind lets take a look at each program.
The CST-100 like the Dragon V2 and Orion spacecraft is based on a capsule design which will return to Earth and land under parachutes.
The CST-100 will be launched on an Atlas V rocket supplied by ULA.
Orion is designed to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), while it could operate in LEO there really isn’t much point as the commercial companies will have this ability before Orion’s next flight. The first test flight of Orion was completed successfully earlier this month.
The Orion spacecraft will be launched on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket which is due to debut in 2018.
SNC’s Dream Chaser
Unlike the other’s Dream Chaser is a lifting body spacecraft designed to land automatically on conventional runways.
Dream Chaser will be launched by an Atlas V but a smaller version is also being designed that could launch on Stratolaunch.
SpaceX’s Dragon V2
The Dragon V2 spacecraft is the crewed version of the currently operating Dragon spacecraft that has supplied the space station five times. This vehicle will include the ability to automatically dock with the station and will use a propulsive landing to allow it to precisely control where it lands.
Dragon V2 will be launched on the Falcon 9 v1.1 as the current Dragon does.
Far from falling behind the rest of the world we truly believe that the US is in a far stronger position for the future. Having four active manned programs three of which are commercially owed will help to keep costs lower and will ensure that the US has access to space even if one system suffers a failure.
The following is a statement from Ralph O. White, Managing Associate General Counsel for Procurement Law at GAO, regarding today’s decision resolving a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., B-410485, et al., January 5, 2015.
On January 5, 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, challenging the award of contracts to The Boeing Co., Space Exploration, of Houston, Texas, and to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap). Sierra Nevada argued, among other things, that NASA’s evaluation departed from the solicitation’s stated evaluation and selection criteria by significantly elevating NASA’s stated “goal” of obtaining an integrated crew transportation system no later than the end of 2017, and by failing to put offerors on notice that the agency’s goal would be central to the evaluation and selection decision.
As explained in our decision, in this procurement, Sierra Nevada offered its Dream Chaser crew transportation system (a lifting body spacecraft), launched using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and landed horizontally on normal runways. Sierra Nevada’s price was $2.55 billion.
Boeing offered its CST-100 crew transportation system (a capsule spacecraft), also launched using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and landed using parachute and airbag systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. Boeing’s price was $3.01 billion.
SpaceX offered its Crew Dragon crew transportation system (also a capsule spacecraft), launched using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle, and landed using parachutes and propulsive soft landing systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. SpaceX’s price was $1.75 billion.
In making its selection decision, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government. Specifically, NASA recognized Boeing’s higher price, but also considered Boeing’s proposal to be the strongest of all three proposals in terms of technical approach, management approach, and past performance, and to offer the crew transportation system with most utility and highest value to the government. NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX’s lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada.
GAO disagreed with Sierra Nevada’s arguments about NASA’s evaluation, and found no undue emphasis on NASA’s consideration of each offeror’s proposed schedule, and likelihood to achieve crew transportation system certification not later than 2017. GAO also noted that, contrary to Sierra Nevada’s assertions, the RFP clearly advised offerors that their proposals would be evaluated against the goal of certification by the end of 2017.
Sierra Nevada also argued that NASA conducted an inadequate review of the realism of SpaceX’s price and overall financial resources, conducted a flawed and disparate evaluation of proposals under the mission suitability evaluation factor, and improperly evaluated the relevance of offerors’ past performance. Based on our review of the issues, we concluded that these arguments were not supported by the evaluation record or by the terms of the solicitation.
The GAO decision takes no position on the relative merits of these proposal approaches to NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract. Instead, GAO reviewed the conclusions reached by NASA to determine if they were reasonable, and consistent with the evaluation approach NASA set out in its solicitation.
Because this protest decision contains proprietary and source selection sensitive information, release of the decision, at this point, is limited to NASA personnel and to outside counsel who have been admitted under the GAO protective order issued for this protest. The parties have been directed to submit proposed redactions for the purpose of preparing a public version of the decision. GAO expects to publish a public version of the decision as soon as possible; however, the release of a public decision may take a few weeks. When the public version of the decision is available, it will be posted to our website, www.gao.gov.
For more information, please contact Ralph O. White at 202-512-8278.
Due to the appeal by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of the CCtCap awards to Boeing and SpaceX both companies have been told to stop any work until the appeal process has been completed.
SNC filed a complaint on 26th Sept 2014 with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), while full details of the complaint are not currently available the general summary appears to be related to irregularities with the selection process and the fact that their bid was $900m less than Boeing’s. The GAO has 100 days to review and rule on the appeal, at present there is no way to know what they could decide, at the minimum they could rule there is no basis in the complaint at worse they could rule that the contracts are invalid and require the process to be done again.
So what impact does this have on the Commercial Crew program for NASA. Depending on the GAO’s decision it could either result in a slight delay or at worse could push Commercial Crew into 2018 or beyond. This would almost certainly mean that NASA would also have to negotiate more seats on Soyuz to cover the delay which based on the last cost increase could run at more than $80m a seat.
What if GAO rules one of the contracts is invalid? Well that would almost certainly guarantee an appeal by whoever’s contract is invalidated which could drag out the process even further.
The Irony in all this is clearly based on the SNC/Stratolaunch System’s announcement made just yesterday SNC has no plans to abandon the Dream Chaser program and while we are sure having $3.3b would go a long way to complete this they most likely could have found funding elsewhere.
The same goes for SpaceX they clearly have plans that go well beyond just providing Dragon V2 for NASA and again the $2.6b will help realize these goals faster then if they had to fund the development themselves.
Finally Boeing did indicate that if they didn’t get the award they would be laying off workers, whether they would abandon CST-100 is really unknown as there have been indications that they might have or still might consider competing for the CRS2 Cargo contracts which was announced recently.
It seems to us that the only people who will lose out in the mess is NASA and the Taxpayer, NASA because they will potentially be reliant on Russia for longer and Taxpayer because we will have to foot the bill of the appeal process and any changes to the contracts resulting form the appeal.
A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.
Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.
SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS. Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this. See my full article on the awards here.
ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas. Full article include specs can be found here.
Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive. They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.
ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission. This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet. For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.
First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space. The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable. For more information on the printer check out this page. We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.
Today at 4pm EDT from Kennedy Space Center NASA announced the winners of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts.
And the winners are:
Boeing – The CST-100 capsule seen to the right has been awarded $4.2 billion of the money. Over the next three years Boeing will have to complete a number of milestones below to prove that the CST-100 capsule can indeed deliver crew to the ISS.
While the CST-100, according to Boeing, can be launched on multiple rockets they have selected to use the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.
This will bring Boeing’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program to $4.77 billion.
SpaceX – The Dragon V2 again seen on the right has also been awarded a contract of $2.6 billion allowing NASA to have a two options for the CCtCap process.
At the time of writing SpaceX have not completed their pad or launch abort tests from the CCiCap contract, however they are scheduled to be completed in the next six months and there should be no reason that SpaceX couldn’t be ready before 2017.
This will bring SpaceX’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program $3.11 billion
Each company will have to pass five certification milestones as well as a number of others that they themselves have selected, payment will be based on the different milestones. We will bring you news of these milestones once the information has been been made available.
Under the contracts awarded today both companies will perform one demo flight each and a maximum of six crewed missions to the station carrying four crew members each time, they also include some money towards additional studies. With the introduction of the Dragon V2 and CST-100 NASA have also announced that the space station will move from a six member crew to seven members allow more research to be performed.
The award amounts are based on the paperwork that was submitted during the process by each company and both have to meet the same goals laid out by NASA. Basically SpaceX will be achieving the same goals for 62% the cost that Boeing will.
In summary this is what we hoped would happen, two competitors have been selected and the next few years are going to be exciting for US manned spaceflight, we are another step closer to returning crewed flight to US soil and despite the fact that one of the competitors is still reliant on Russian engines to get into orbit that may change too as news of a partnership between ULA and Blue Origin to be announced tomorrow could see the RD-180 replaced, we will bring new of that announcement as soon as we have it.
At present we have no news on what will happen to the Dream Chaser program at SNC, when we have further information it will be made available here.
This got me thinking as personally I fully believe in Commercial Space as being the key to the future of human access to space. The reason I am writing this post is to share my perspective Commercial Space.
Yes during the twitter conversation it could be viewed that I was downplaying Commercial Space, however that really wasn’t the case, I was basing the information on what I had learned this week from Garrett Reisman of SpaceX who during a Q&A session after his presentation at the NASA FISO forum stated that the SpaceX Texas Spaceport would not be used for crewed missions. This was because at present the only customer for Commercial Crew is NASA and to get to the space station from Texas would have required flying over populate land which is not allowed under FAA rules.
It is my hope that at least two companies are selected under the up coming CCtCap awards which are due to be announced any time now. Yes I would love SpaceX to be one of those awarded not only because I am a fan of SpaceX but also because currently Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to use the Atlas 5 launcher which uses the RD-180 Russian engine, although both have said that they could fly on Falcon 9 too.
In an ideal scenario all three companies would be funded to give the US a huge advantage over the rest of the world when it comes to launching crew to orbit, longer term it is my hope that future missions for NASA would use commercial crew for missions especially to LEO and even as far as the moon. Eventually there would be no need for NASA to have there own launcher and instead could focus there money on science and exploration.
In an article that I plan to publish next month I talk a lot more about this, personally I believe that any successor to the International Space Station (ISS) should be derived from commercially available platforms like the Bigelow inflatable modules or others yet to come. Smaller versions of these inflatable modules could be used to provide crew quarters for longer distance missions.
Bigelow are currently planning to launch at least one of their BA-330 module in 2017 presumably once there is at least one Commercial Crew provider available. Once there modules are in space and depending on their orbit it could well be that crew could be launched from Texas or even from California.
Space Resource provisioning
For us to be successful in space we need to establish a reliable way of supplying missions from space itself, this would reduce the amount of cargo/fuel that needs to be launched allowing larger payloads, pair that with inflatable spacecraft then longer distance missions could be launched where only the supplies that cannot be sourced in space need to be included.
So why am I playing down the potential
That was never my intention, however I can certainly see from what was said recently that it could be viewed that way, and will certainly be more careful how I say things in future.
I fully believe that the only viable solution to human’s permanent presence in space is through commercial companies. I closely follow the Commercial Crew programs from Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX, as well as what is happening with Bigelow and any other companies that are trying to future the use of space.
Following on from my previous article I wanted to explore the possibility that the Space Launch System (SLS) may never actually fly.
While progress has been made on the SLS it will not be ready to fly when President Barack Obama leaves office and given that he cancelled the Constellation Program (CxP) when he came to office it is quite likely that whoever takes office in 2017 could look at how much has been spent on SLS and decide to cancel it too. Thankfully we believe that the Commercial Crew program will be far enough along that it won’t be cancelled but there is no guarantee.
So what happens if SLS is cancelled?
1) The US would have spent close to $25 billion on CxP and SLS by the time it is cancelled (including Orion and Ground support work). While elements of the work could be used on a new program it is likely that some of the money would have been wasted.
2) Depending what direction the new President decided the new launcher for NASA could be many years away.
3) NASA would be dependent on Commercial Crew or Russia to launch people to orbit, while that would be the case for International Space Station (ISS) anyway this would also apply to any other missions before an alternate is available.
What do we hope happens?
1) That SLS is cancelled, despite how much has been “invested” in the program we feel that the system is just too expensive to ever fly. We have heard estimates that each flight could cost $2-3b but at present there just isn’t enough data to know for certain.
2) That any new direction decided would make use of the Commercial partners that are already providing services to NASA. SpaceX have plans for Falcon Heavy which would have the largest payload capacity of any rocket currently available and they are already working on engines for a successor to that. The three competitors in the Commercial Crew Program Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX all have vehicles that can carry as many as seven passengers to orbit. SpaceX’s long term goals are to travel to Mars which means they will have vehicles in the future that can make the journey.
3) That whatever plan is decided on by the President is based on feedback from the citizen’s of the US, either via a Survey or by putting together a team of non government experts who could layout a course that benefits everyone, a decadal survey for manned space flight.
4) Whatever plan is adopted needs to at least have started flying within a single Presidential term so that it is much harder to cancel when the next President takes office.
The views in this article are our own, we would love to
hear your feedback on this.
Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
Launched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch. On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo. On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo. After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.
This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.
On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board. However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.
Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines. These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).
The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.
The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.
So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.
While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.
New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System
Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online. The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.
Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.
The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring. The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.
The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight. The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.
NASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism. The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.
The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.
Construction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto
Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.
The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar. Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.
SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th
SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th. The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.
This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.
It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.
The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia
The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.
Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.
In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan. However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.
However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.
Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks. Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.
The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.
The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.
SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed
In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available. The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.
One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week. Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.
At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.