In 2010, with the retirement of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program, the space agency began the Commercial Crew Program to stimulate development of privately built and operated American-made space vehicles for transporting astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS). Since the final shuttle landed in 2011, America has been forced to buy seats to and from the orbiting outpost from Russia, at a cost of over $70 million, per seat. Now, after over four years of testing, development, and waiting, NASA today announced the selection of Boeing’s CST-100 space capsule and SpaceX’s Dragon V2 space capsule to replace the agency’s now-retired space shuttle fleet for flying astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the ISS no later than 2017.
“Today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry also will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars. We don’t know who is going to get to command the first mission to carry humans into low-Earth orbit on a spacecraft built by an American private company, but we know it will be a seminal moment in NASA history and a major achievement for our nation. We now know, however, who will build it.”
The total award value of their Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are worth up to $6.8 billion, with $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX, and in order to achieve final NASA certification by 2017 both Boeing and SpaceX must meet the same rigorous safety standards that were required for the space shuttle.
Per the terms of the contract, each company must fly at least one crewed flight test, with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the ISS, as well as validate that all its systems operate as expected throughout the mission. Once Boeing and SpaceX have completed their test programs successfully and earned NASA certification, they will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the ISS for NASA. Both vehicles will also serve as lifeboats for crew living on station in case of an emergency, as well as serving other potential customers besides NASA.
The Boeing CST-100 Crew Space Transportation System
“It feels great to be building this, not only for Boeing but for the entire country,” said Boeing CST-100 engineer Tony Castilleja in a telephone interview with AmericaSpace late this afternoon. “I grew up inspired by space shuttle, and this will inspire a whole new generation. Seeing where we are headed, it’s a testament to the hard work of our team, I haven’t seen a passion like this ever, there’s a passion to the work that each and everyone does on this program, and I think that’s shown in the past with our ability to meet our milestones on time, as promised, and it’s going to show at the launch pad come 2017.”
With their award now secured, Boeing is picking up the pace with building three flight articles, each capable of 10 orbital flights each, and each flight article will serve to fulfill NASA’s CCtCap requirements for certification and regular crew transportation flights.
“The CST-100 is a cheap, cost effective vehicle that does not need to be luxurious because it only needs to hold people for 48 hours. It’s a simple ride up to and back from space,” said former astronaut and commander of the last space shuttle mission Chris Ferguson, who now serves as Director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing. “Our focus right now is making sure we build the vehicle the right way.”
CST-100 will launch initially atop ULA’s Atlas-V rocket and be capable of ferrying a crew of up to seven astronauts to and from the ISS. NASA only requires seating for four, but in a recent exclusive interview with AmericaSpace, Ferguson said he expects crews of at least five to fly. The vehicle will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just a few miles from its processing facility, and will cruise autonomously on a six to eight hour trip to the $100 billion orbiting ISS. The astronauts will not need to fly the vehicle themselves at all, and will literally be along for the ride in all aspects of the flight. They will, however, be able to take manual control of the CST-100 at any time, just in case.
“We have a basic level of training we provide that will give the operator, a pilot, the knowledge that they need to operate the spaceship, which is mostly autonomous,” added Ferguson. “They will have the ability to get to the ISS and back, as well as the ability to deal with failures and the ability to take manual control if necessary. NASA wants a single piloted vehicle, so we will train the pilot to whatever level of proficiency they need, and if NASA wants us to train someone else to a pilot level of proficiency then we will be happy to do that. That being said we have factored into our design the ability for a copilot, and train them perhaps to the same level of proficiency as the pilot. They would sit beside the pilot and do all of those types of crew resource management (CRM) types of things that NASA instilled in us shuttle astronauts over the years.”
“When astronauts go up in this (the CST-100) their primary mission is not to fly the spacecraft, their primary mission is to go to the space station for 6 months, so we don’t want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly our vehicle,” added Ferguson.
The spacecraft interior is much more user-friendly than vehicles that came before, no more hundreds (if not thousands) of switches on nearly every wall; CST-100’s control panel spans not more than three feet wide. Its look and feel is very user-focused, featuring therapeutic Boeing LED Sky Lighting technology similar to that found in the company’s 787 Dreamliner. A blue hue creates a sky effect and makes the capsule appear and feel roomier, something any astronaut will agree is always desired (spaceflight is not for the claustrophobic). The interior also boasts tablet technology for crew interfaces, which completely eliminates any need for bulky manuals, while wireless internet will support communications and ISS docking operations.
“One of the great things with the technology we have at Boeing is the ability to rapid prototype the interior, and as designs get updated we’re able to bring in new design concepts,” said Castilleja in an interview with AmericaSpace onboard Boeing’s CST-100 mock up last June at KSC. “We get the engineers in here and get the astronauts in here every six months to provide that reach and visibility. Do they feel comfortable? Is there anything we need to tweak as we move forward? It really builds trust with them. It’s almost like buying a car, but you’re a part of the design process in that vehicle.”
“We brought our commercial airliner feel into the CST-100, and so you see this merging … it’s almost like history repeating itself, from commercial airlines to commercial spaceflight,” added Castilleja. “We’re bringing that Boeing element into spaceflight and wanted to create an interior that makes the spacecraft feel a little bit bigger.”
Now that Boeing has secured their award with NASA, operations will immediately move to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to manufacture, assemble, and test the actual CST-100 flight articles. Boeing, in partnership with Space Florida, is already leasing the former space shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility Bay-3 at KSC to do this, modernizing the facility (now known as the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF for short) to provide an environment for efficient production, testing, and operations for the CST-100 similar to Boeing’s satellite, space launch vehicle, and commercial airplane production programs.
“We’re transitioning this facility into a world class manufacturing facility,” said Mulholland. “With a 50,000 square foot processing facility it’s going to allow us to process up to six CST-100′s at a time.”
The hangar facility has more than enough room to support processing of multiple CST-100s simultaneously, and the adjoining sections of the building are well-suited to process other systems such as engines and thrusters before they are integrated into the main spacecraft. Boeing will also bring 300, and eventually 500, new jobs to Florida’s “Space Coast,” whose economy was hit particularly hard at the end the shuttle program.
“This facility will become point and center, we’ll be developing the test articles here and then starting the manufacturing for full services in 2017,” added Castilleja. “This is where all the pieces and parts will come in, and we’ll then build everything right here. One side of the building is for processing the service modules, and the other side of the facility is for processing the crew modules. We’ll then ship out to the Atlas launch pad integration facility and off we go.”
The SpaceX Dragon V2 Crew Space Capsule
“SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a statement this afternoon. “We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose. It is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.”
Musk unveiled his Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s new Dragon spacecraft, the Dragon V2, at SpaceX Headquarters in southern California last May.
“When we first created Dragon V1 we didn’t really know how to create a spacecraft, we never designed a spacecraft before, so, while there are a lot of interesting technologies in Dragon V1 it does have a relatively conventional landing approach by throwing off parachutes and landing in water off the coast of CA after it comes back from the ISS,” said Musk, moments before dropping the curtain on Dragon V2. “It’s a great spacecraft and a great proof of concept, it showed us what it took to bring something back from orbit, which is a very difficult thing to do, but going from V1 we wanted to take a big step in technology.”
SpaceX currently flies their Dragon V1 to carry out a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, signed in late 2008, to conduct 12 dedicated Dragon resupply missions to the ISS by 2016, missions which promise to haul a total of 44,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the orbiting outpost. Dragon V1 was the first commercial spacecraft to visit the ISS, and the first commercial spacecraft to return to Earth from orbit. It has flown to, and from, the ISS four times, starting with the inaugural Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demo mission in May 2012 and followed by the dedicated CRS-1 and CRS-2 missions in October 2012 and March 2013, and, most recently, the CRS-3 mission last April. CRS-4 is expected to launch Sept. 20.
However, Elon Musk has always said he wants to bring American human spaceflight capability back to the nation and give humanity the means to become a multi-planet species, at much cheaper than any government can do, and even though the Dragon V1 does have a life-support system it’s not one that can last for a long time or carry a lot of people. That’s where the Dragon V2 comes in, and its landing method will be quite different, too.
“Dragon V2 still retains the parachutes of Dragon V1, but V2 will be able to land anywhere on land propulsively, and do so anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter, which is something I think a modern spaceship should be able to do,” said Musk. “When Dragon V2 reaches a particular altitude a few miles before landing it will test the engines and verify that all the engines are working before proceeding to a propulsive landing, and if there is any anomaly detected with the engines or propulsion system it will then deploy the parachutes to ensure a safe landing, even in the event that the propulsion system is not working. All around I think it’s really a big leap forward in technology, it really takes things to the next level.”
“Even after starting the propulsion system it can afford to lose up to two engines and still land safely,” added Musk. “After the engines are started it will then deploy the landing legs for a soft landing. This is really important, apart from the convenience of the landing location, because it enable rapid reusability of the spacecraft, you can just reload propellants and fly again. This is extremely important for evolutionizing access to space because as long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft we will never truly have access to space, it will always be incredibly expensive.”
Musk offered the following scenario for comparison:
“If aircraft were thrown away after each flight then nobody would be able to fly, or very few, maybe a small number of customers. The same is true of rockets and spacecraft, so that’s really why it’s so important to be able to land propulsively, land on land and be able to reload propellants and take off again.”
The biggest upgrade, at least from a propulsion standpoint, is the addition of the SuperDraco engines, a “superpowered” version of the Dragon V1 Draco engines used to maneuver in space and control the spacecraft’s trajectory during reentry. Dragon V2 will still use the original Draco thrusters for maneuvering in space, but the V2’s SuperDraco thrusters will serve both as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system and enable propulsive landing on land. A total of eight SuperDraco’s are built into the side walls of the Dragon V2 and will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust (16,000 pounds of thrust each, compared to 100 pounds of thrust each with the original Draco thrusters). The engines also come in pairs, so if one engine fails the other can increase its thrust to compensate for the engine that is not firing.
The SuperDraco engines on the Dragon V2 are also the first fully 3-D printed engines intended for space. The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high-performance superalloy that offers both high strength and toughness for increased reliability; they will become the first printed rocket engines ever used in spaceflight. It was only a couple days ago that SpaceX completed qualification testing for the SuperDraco thruster at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, which included testing across a variety of conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations, and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.
“Through 3-D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Musk. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”
Where Does This Leave Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser?
As with any competition, there must be a loser. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser “mini space shuttle” did not secure a CCtCap award from NASA. However, that does not mean we will never see a Dream Chaser fly, it just means we won’t see NASA giving them extra money to continue development to serve the space agency’s agenda for contracting with private companies for crew transport to and from the ISS.
In a recent five-part exclusive interview with AmericaSpace, SNC Space Systems VP Mark Sirangelo made it loud and clear, the company is ready to move forward with development of the Dream Chaser without NASA, as long as there is a business case for it.
“We have to see why we did not get the CCtCap award from NASA, and then we have to determine what are our cost course to push forward is,” said Sirangelo. “We have a lot of the hardware in place and a lot of things moving. We believe we have a path with other relationships to continue, we have to evaluate what happened. Was it money issues or technical or something else? So we are not saying at this time what we are going to do or not do. NASA is an important part of this, but we have been laying the foundation with other relationships as well. We have all the elements to be able to go ahead, but whether we go ahead is a matter of whether there is a business case for it. We can’t say at this time.”
Sierra Nevada has already begun to build their first Dream Chaser for an inaugural orbital flight test atop a ULA Atlas-V rocket in late 2016, and they have already purchased the Atlas-V for that flight. Whether that flight actually occurs we will have to wait and see, being that NASA did not select the Dream Chaser for a commercial crew award.
“Our destiny is set. Our course is laid out before us. And we are following it,” added Bolden this afternoon. “We hope the American people will be inspired to join us on this next great, ambitious leg of humanity’s journey farther into our solar system than ever before.”
“I can’t put into words what it will feel like to see years of hard work payoff when that first CST-100 launches,” added Boeing’s Tony Castilleja at the end of our conversation today. “When we launch the CST-100 on that Atlas-V rocket I can’t wait to look to the left of me, to the right of me, and see the friends and the passion that each and everyone put together to launch this off, and I can’t wait to see our astronauts return home on our vehicle safely.”
VIDEO: SpaceX Dragon V2 Mission Animation
VIDEO: Boeing CST-100 Mission Animation
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The total contract value is $6.8 Billion.
What is the total time period of the contract?
The reason for asking is the current commercial crew budget is “only” $0.850 Billion. To absorb $6.8 Billon would require 8 years and to get the vehicles certified by 2017 would almost certainly require a higher level of spending over the next 2 years. Has any of this been discussed with Congress or is this another” just throw it out there and let it sink” operation?
$4.2 for Boeing
$2.6 for SpaceX
Good point, but it raises the question – if the extra funds are not available what is done:
(1) Reduce the funding for both “winners”, assuring both are underfunded and thus likely to fail?
(2) Select a single “winner”, if so which one?
I am sure the local SpaceX aficionados think they know the answer to (2), but what will the answer actually be?
Joe, the budget discrepancy hasn’t escaped me. Perhaps NASA is trying a fait accompli.
By awarding contracts to both “New Space” and “Old Space”, they are trying to satisfy both factions, while at the same time daring Congress to cut funding.
Except that it is not a matter of “cutting funding” but increasing it.
In the past the Administration has attempted to increase Commercial Crew funding (without increasing overall funding for NASA HSF) by taking the money from the SLS/Orion Budget, without negotiating those changes with Congress. The Congress rejects those changes and then both programs get underfunded.
Doesn’t really matter if you support one approach over the other, both sides lose.
Excellent article Mike!
Joe, NASA isn’t working in a vacuum. For weeks they have been talking to people in the House, Senate and Administration. That’s why this decision has been so long in coming.
The government generally agrees that we need to launch American astronauts from American soil. NASA is saying this is how we are going to do it.
Since the FY2015 budget and the Authorization Act are stalled, NASA is pushing. Fait accompli…
I hope you are correct, but you would have thought that kind of coordination was happening in previous steps and it was not.
There are still 2 questions:
(1) Over how many years is the $6.8 Billion to be spent? Hopefully this information will be made available shortly.
(2) If the answer to (1) requires a significant increase in the commercial crew budget, has the Executive Branch reached agreement with Congress as to how to fund the increase? This will likely only be answered when congressional hearings begin.
It’s sad that Dream Chaser didn’t win. Boeing had politics on their side.
The real winner here is SpaceX. I almost wish they had lost because detractors will have more ammunition to claim that government money made them. I expect they will do ten times more with their $2.6b than Boeing will do with their $4.2b.
Nasa should publish why dream chaser was not supported it looks like nasa took the safe option .
to the dream chaser crew I hope you get to fly and prove nasa wrong 3 choices are better than 2 .
It’s not surprising that the well-connected corporate giant got the lion’s share of this pie. Now, after a four-decade detour, the US finds itself rebuilding a capsule-based crewed spaceflight capability that NASA had started flight testing a half a century ago.
….I have a strange feeling that in the end…. under this program …. launching the “cheap” CST-100 will still end up costing about a $1B per flight and the “revolutionary affordable” Dragon V-2 will cost $995M per flight…This is how government works…This decision will destroy any hope of cheap access to space…Musk was just bought off!
Musk bought off??? Don’t bet on it. Money is not his motivation (hard as that is for those that are motivated solely by money to understand.)
Lets just see if “Reusability” suddenly takes a backseat or slows down…I think Musk is right when he says we need to become a multi-planetary species if we are to survive because of the potential for doomsday events such as asteroids, super volcanoes, ocean methane release or another Democrat winning the White House…
I do not know if this is a sign of a slow down in SpaceX “re-usability” research, but for what it is worth:
And so it begins…Technology that was clearly on the path to be implemented sooner rather than put back on the shelf because it would lower launch costs to much and create the availability for people to leave the planet in large numbers thus depleting the Tax Base and continuing the Kingdom/Serf economic concept that has existed since the beginning of recorded history.
Too funny. This has absolutely no relationship with slowing down research into reusability. It’s just pragmatism and demonstrates SpaceX flexibility (like flying a guy that doesn’t fly to do an onsite launch repair.)
The thing is, nobody seems to believe in what made this country great with all wanting to be serfs instead. It’s incredible. However, I believe truth will win out. Space has the potential to embarrass governments significantly. FH lifting twice the load for a third the price is just the start. Having MCT land on mars may be the sign of the next human revolution… after agriculture, industrial and information.
Since you seem to think you know exactly what is happening, maybe you could share that information with the rest of us.
What is it you believe SpaceX is being pragmatic and flexible about?
They can manufacture F9 with or without legs for their own purposes. They are doing R&D paid for by using regular flights rather than separately as in the grasshopper program. This is part of their brilliance.
But the paid customer comes first (business 101.) So you should not read anything into a flight without landing legs since it gives the paid customer more performance.
If you are saying (as you seem to be) that in order to deliver 5,000 lbs. cargo to the ISS they cannot accept the extra mass of the landing gear (never mind the extra fuel mass for a retrograde maneuver and horizontal alignment) that looks very bad for reusability.
Why the significant difference in funding between the two firms?
“Space has the potential to embarrass governments significantly. FH lifting twice the load for a third the price is just the start. Having MCT land on mars may be the sign of the next human revolution… after agriculture, industrial and information.”
I agree whole hardly and that is the problem…SpaceX will be throttled with massive red tape to insure that their costs do NOT reduce costs to the point that Boeing is more expensive by a factor of ten which it will be if SpaceX completes reusability design…So how will this occur?…By creating a massive recertification process everytime SpaceX wants to “reuse” any rocket systems for NASA missions. Also SpaceX will have to create a massive overhead administration team to deal with the 1000s of government stake holders, congressmen and lobbyists insuring that the governments investment is spent wisely and only on government services….NOT building FH or MCT or anything else related to MARS…Musk will be systematically shutdown on reusability….All because he got in bed with government way way way to much…Musk will rue the day he accepted this contract…Check out the link
Now Musk is saying that he loves NASA and a self sustaining colony on MARS can NOT be completed without NASA….We are never getting off Earth.
Good link, but I think you missed two points in the article (if they are accurate) that are more important (at least in the short run) than whether or not Musk will “allow” NASA to be a part of building his Mars colony.
(1) “both capsules are configured to transport 5 passengers”. Until now the crew size had been listed as 7 passengers. That is a 28% reduction in crew capacity.
(2) “NASA plans to use Boeing’s CST100 and SpaceX’s Dragon to shuttle 4 astronauts to the space station on each mission” and “Boeing will work with its partner, Space Adventures, to offer the additional seat to space tourists”. So Boeing (the dinosaur old space company) is the first to start trying to sell tourist tickets.
They’re still seven passenger vehicles. NASA wants them configured for four (possibly because they want cargo in addition.)
Tracy, you nailed it with your red tape point.
You might be correct, but that is not what the article says:
“However, both capsules are configured to transport 5 passengers.
Boeing will work with its partner, Space Adventures, to offer the additional seat to space tourists.”
What is your source of information?
Why the significant difference in funding between the two firms?
Ok, I’ll answer this myself.
They are providing the exact same service so logically they should both be paid $2.6b. All firms are required to make up any shortfall themselves and Boeing is certainly capable of doing that.
That would free up $1.6b for Dream Chaser which was the most needy of the three. Since NASA wants diversity how about a low g reentry ending at an airport?
The argument that Boeing is ahead is pure bull. Where are the abort tests on Boeing’s schedule? [crickets chirping]
SpaceX decided to move forward with a vehicle that could eventually land on every rock in the solar system with the precision of a helicopter. They could have just taken the money and announce done… behold Dragon 1.1 (with flight heritage to boot.) They could have gone with the space shuttle launch abort system: none (arguing that launch abort adds failure modes making it more dangerous than none.)
Boeing was awarded more because they had better lobbyists and NASA felt they could slip this decision by everyone.
SNC should sue.
The reason for funding difference is because Boeing is primary and SpaceX isn’t.
It bears reminding that the companies themselves chose their CCiCap milestones for the funding they were awarded. By completing all of its CCiCap milestones before summer’s end, Boeing demonstrated that it can manage technical achievements under a given budget, that it’s programmatic eyes were not too big for its funding.
Frankly, given its CCiCap performance, you should be grateful that SpaceX won even its secondary CCP role. SpaceX wasn’t ready for it’s milestone 13 “Integrated CDR”, so NASA broke that up eventually into 4 mini-CDR’s, not one of which will be “integrated” with the others nor to be finished before year’s end. SpaceX will maybe get its milestone 11 pad abort test done by year’s end. And milestone 14, in-flight abort test? Maybe by March. This might be just an anomaly, but from Falcon 1 to COTS and CRS SpaceX’s history is replete with delays lasting years. I’m sure to NASA that watching SpaceX during CCiCap was like watching a rerun. There was no way NASA was going to place the role of primary in those hands.
The final phase of CCP is to get a craft ready as soon as practicable. The CPP history so far shows that Boeing knows what it can and cannot deliver for a given budget. SpaceX has demonstrated from COTS through CCiCap that it still has yet to master that skill.
It is disquieting that a couple of commercial transports, capsule based, should require 6.8 Billion dollars in government money to get operational. This number not even including the launch vehicle. This also after all the contestants recently released multiple statements about how far along they were.
My low opinion of SLS/Orion stands, but these contracts undermine my best argument against the financial problems I see with that program vs “commercial”. It is annoying to say the least for my debate opponents to get such high quality ammunition.
Like Elon said, “Space is tricky.” And not cheap.
No sarcasm intended, I sympathize with your disquiet. The real problem is the assumption that SpaceX (because it has flown a cargo version of the Dragon vehicle) has an easy task to produce a crew version of the “same” vehicle. That doesn’t cover the life support and crew interfaces. Many SpaceX supporters (though from past interfaces I know, not you) believe that those developments are trivial and they are not. Boeing has done their homework in those areas, but has more hardware development to do.
Jim is correct (at least in my opinion) that Boeing is being far more realistic in their cost/time estimates than SpaceX.
Believe it or not, I would really like to believe SpaceX promises, but I refuse to fall prey to the space supporter’s equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.