Spaceflight Insider

Decision on Commercial Crew Program likely to be made after Labor Day weekend

Image Credit: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — For the primary competitors under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program one day next week could be a very good day for one or two of them. CCP, the effort to cede responsibility in delivering astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) is poised to undergo yet another selection process. SpaceFlight Insider has received reports that the announcement could be made as to which companies move forward in this program – some time after Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1).

The selection of which of the three primary entries will move on to the Commercial Crew transportation Capability or “CCtCap” phase – has been eagerly anticipated within the space community over the past several months. Those vying for the contractual prize include: Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX ) Dragon spacecraft, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser space plane and Boeing’s CST-100 capsule. It is hoped that these spacecraft will be able to ferry crews to the ISS as early as 2017. Blue Origin’s Space Vehicle is also listed as the fourth company that is part of of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP ).

The road to this final selection process – has been a long and interesting journey.

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser is one of the more unique entries under CCP. The mini shuttle is the only non capsule-based design among the three primary contenders. Photo Credit: Ken Ulbrich / NASA

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is one of the more unique entries under CCP. The mini shuttle is the only non capsule-based design among the three primary contenders. Photo Credit: Ken Ulbrich / NASA

In 2010, five U.S. companies (Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and United Launch Alliance) were provided funding totaling an estimated $50 million collectively, in order to develop crew-rated low-Earth-orbit spaceflight technologies. Later in October of 2010, NASA again called for proposals for project development lasting up to 14 months.

Just months prior to the Space Shuttle program drawing to a close, an announcement was made in April 2011 that NASA would be providing $270 million to the companies that could meet the objectives for the second phase of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev 2). The companies awarded funding under this round were Blue Origin ($22 million), Boeing ($92.3 million), SpaceX ($75 million), and Sierra Nevada ($80 million).

The most recent phase of the CCP, was dubbed Commercial Crew Integrated Capability or “CCiCap.”

Enacted in August 2012, this phase is due to expire this year – when it will be replaced by the FAR Part 15 contract – CCtCap. CCtCap should write the closing chapters of the developmental period of the Commercial Crew Program. At present, the United States is dependent on Russia for rides to the International Space Station. CCP is designed to end this situation, to allow U.S. firms to send crews to the ISS so that the space agency can focus on deep space exploration.

NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO ) will continue to manage each phase of the program as it develops.

“We’re extremely pleased with the progress our commercial partners are making,” said the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Kathy Lueders, NASA Commercial Crew Program deputy manager. “We continually marvel at the ingenuity of our partners and are confident that we will have the ability to launch our astronauts from U.S. soil aboard American-made systems in a few years.”

There have been a number of companies that have competed under CCP since 2010. Image Credit: NASA

There have been a number of companies that have competed under CCP since 2010. Image Credit: NASA

Please check back with SpaceFlight Insider for updates regarding the upcoming announcement and the Commercial Crew Program

 

 This article was edited on Aug. 30 at 1:49 p.m. EDT to add the date of Labor Day

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Stephen Rivera

As I said in a previous article, I think NASA will select 2, but I can be wrong. I strongly believe Boeing will be selected due to a number of reasons such as risk, NASA wanting more options (political) as well as pushing commercial opportunities within cis-lunar space (Bigelow Aerospace).

The second choice is Sierra Nevada and SpaceX. Either will continue there business plan for manned spaceflight whether they win or lose compared to Boeing.

I believe Sierra Nevada is a favorite. They have put themselves in a position to be selected and is a favorite among certain NASA agencies

SpaceX, my favorite, brings to the hopes and dreams for many that may allow humanity to expand into interplanetary space, but SpaceX has burnt bridges and has not demonstrated an equal to or more flight rate compared to ULA. Also, SpaceX brings in more risk compared to its competitors

I have written proposals and the perfect proposal will get you 80% to 90% to your goal, the rest is political. I am curious who will win 🙂

SpaceX launch costs are significantly lower than those associated with Boeing or SNC.

All three companies have good proposals, but paying more to launch with Russian engines is fiscally irresponsible.

What and when is labor day? You know, American hilidays are not yet worldwide hildays.

Ok, let me check wikipedia…

From someone who is not in the industry but has followed NASA from the beginning it is really interesting to see Boeing using what appears to be the old standard of landing in the ocean when returning to earth. Haven’t we gone beyond this technology? For this reason I really have high hopes for Sierra Nevada (a real space plane) or Space X both of whom seem to be pushing the technology barrier the way we should. Those two should be the winners. Send Boeing back to the drafting boards.

While I consider it highly, highly unlikely we’d see three selected it’s not off the table to my knowledge. One can hope, however remote that chance is. As it stands I’d agree they’d probably opt for two.

Vince – Boeing didn’t even go back to the drafting boards for CST-100. It was their proposed alternative to Orion when that was in the bidding. If they aren’t selected, they’ll just put it back on mothballs where it started and pretend like it never existed, just like they did when Orion was chosen.

The CST-100 shares the same Outer Mold Line (OML) as both the Boeing and Lockheed Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) design – now Orion.

But the starting point for the CST-100 was not the Boeing CEV proposal, but an earlier Boeing design for the cancelled Orbital Space Plane (OSP) that predated Constellation Systems (that design also featured the same OML.

There is no reason leveraging the previous OSP work for the “Commercial” Crew design should count against Boeing. In fact not doing so would have been inefficient as the requirements are very similar.

My issue with Boeing is not that they reuse designs, it’s that if there isn’t a contract to build them, they immediately mothball them. With Sierra Nevada recently stating intent to build with or without the contract CST-100 remains the only serious contender that dead ends without the contract. Unless they have stated otherwise and I missed it. The reason why I hope commercial space succeeds is specifically that. The traditional contractor approach has been for many decades that if there isn’t ink dried on a check, they won’t even cut a blueprint. And I think that’s why we’re stuck where we are.

Granted, I think prior to 2000 the viability of commercial space was highly questionable and I think it remains fairly risky. But when you have largely workable designs sketched out and you just walk away from them, the contractors aren’t progressing the industry. Add in that NASA has aborted numerous plans including the designs that inspired both DreamChaser and Bigelow’s designs and you can see why the old approach of start-stop design will never get us a sustainable program. So I’m more in support of SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin because at least in words they are willing to see it through whereas I think CST-100 stands a strong chance of being dropped like a hot potato if it isn’t selected.

There were two points to my post.

(1) To address the true heritage of the CST-100 (OSP not Orion).
(2) To note that using past design experience should not count against a participant.

I understand your desire for companies to proceed with the development of a vehicle without a viable contract, but when you have stockholders to answer to that can be a difficult proposition.

Musk has deep pockets, what SpaceX will really do (should they not be selected) depends on how deep and how much he is really willing to risk. Nobody knows the answer to that except Musk (if even he does at this point).

Sierra Nevada is trying to arrange other funding sources should they not be selected, if they are successful perhaps they will proceed (but that is a big if).

In any case the selection criteria should be based on which option(s) are the overall best to meet the requirements of the program, not what the companies not selected might or might not do.

I didn’t disagree with anything you said, but we’re having two different conversations. I care about what providers are chosen because it’s important to who proceeds and how. But ultimately what I’d like to see is multiple viable options for orbital space access. Those two goals should be identical, but to your point they may not be given the terms of the commercial crew program as it currently stands. I understand that.

I agree with Vince. Sierra Nevada and Spacex are the clear boundary pushers here. Spacex even more so with their plan for re usability of booster and spacecraft. Maybe Sierra Nevada could benefit from launching from the Falcon 9? Sadly Boeings political connections will likely win out, and even if they don’t, NASA still has SLC which is what Boeing wants to use for their booster. Interesting times ahead.

IVAN – American labour day is September 1st. 6.7 billion other people should know this. LOL

Here’s an interesting possible twist. With Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Blue Origin all promising to continue with or without the NASA contract is NASA actually incentivized to push for CST-100? It’s a bit of a dice roll, but in theory that buys them 4 vehicles for the price of 1. Honestly, I doubt that’s how it plays out, but it’s a curious possibility.

NASA still has 3 fiscal years before Dec 2017. When NASA has their deadline for completion of first operational USCV-1 to ISS(which is fiscal year 2018, Oct 1, 2017 to Sep 30, 2018). So that’s should add up to 2.4 billion dollars for full funding at 800 million per year. That’s enough for all three vehicles to be funded through their test flights to ISS. Congress is already looking to scalp funding from CCP to give to SLS/Orion.

To be fair, NASA has given Spacex enough work and should award the commercial Crew contract to Sierra Nevada and Boeing. Besides the favoritism that NASA affords spacex is being directed by the current administration, so we all know they’ll get another piece of the pie.

This is the new conspiracy theory, is it? A company successfully does its job and is beating the other groups off the line and NASA and the administration are playing favorites? Whether or not you like SpaceX, they earned their spot. No one’s directing them to do anything.

If they were being directed by NASA, Obama, or anyone else, the Dragon and Falcon Heavy would never have existed. Both projects were initiated and largely developed without NASA assistance until well into the respective programs and to date Heavy hasn’t been received one red cent from the government. Musk donated fairly close to evenly among candidates in the past few elections, as the public records readily show, and his contributions were lower by a good measure than the usual suspects (Boeing, LockMart, ATK, etc). Not to mention the closest thing to political leanings he’s got are more Libertarian than Democrat.

What HAS happened is that SpaceX has developed one of the first new domestic spaceflight companies in decades, successfully launched a good number of times now, and is eating China, Russia, and Europe’s lunch in the launch arena. Something the old guard was failing to do to that point. They’re closing the LEO cargo gap left by shuttle, along with Orbital. And soon enough they should be shuttling crew as well.

Look, I hope Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and Blue Origin are huge successes. What we’ve been missing since von Braun is enough options that if option A fails we aren’t left grounded for two years. And at this point the LEO crew offerings between them are starting to reach parity. But don’t pretend like SpaceX’ success as a commercial space flight company is just because of political favoritism. Last I checked no one had figured out how to put payloads in orbit by burning political favors.

“A company successfully does its job and is beating the other groups off the line and NASA and the administration are playing favorites? Whether or not you like SpaceX, they earned their spot. No one’s directing them to do anything.”

A few points:

– SpaceX contracted or planned for 24 Falcon-9 flights through 2013, but only flew seven.

– SpaceX lists nearly 30 flights for this year and next, yet have only flown three times in 2014, and have nearly four times more launches on the calendar for the rest of the year than they have currently been able to fly in 2014.

– SpaceX has launched only three (of the twelve contractually called for) CRS missions but is over 77 percent into the (original) contract period. NASA has had to extend the contract period by two years so SpaceX can appear to be meeting its commitments.

– Of the 20 mT (44,000 lbs.) SpaceX is to launch by the original CRS deadline of 2015, (now delayed to 2017), SpaceX has put only 15 percent of that—6,676 lbs into orbit.
less “beating the other groups off
– Additionally, NASA has also been forced to give SpaceX a year extension to meet its CCiCap (“commercial” crew) milestones.

That hardly qualifies as doing “its job”, much the line”. The over the top rhetoric does your cause (SpaceX) no good.

That last line should read:

That hardly qualifies as doing “its job”, much less “beating the other groups off the line”. The over the top rhetoric does your cause (SpaceX) no good.

Bill Gates apparently decided to help me with the editing.

So how has Orbital been doing? And Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin? How’s their time tables looking? SLS maybe? Are any of those on target? Your points are valid, and honestly the best I’ve seen to date in regards to SpaceX, but they fall on their face when comparing apples to apples with the other contractors, commercial and otherwise, who’ve had the same or worse luck meeting deadlines to date. And the last time a space launch provider met a first flight date or kept up an estimated flight rate was Apollo. I’m not happy about the SpaceX schedule delays either, but they still come out at least on par with the competition in that regard.

“So how has Orbital been doing?”

I assume you mean on CRS. They are also behind in their deliveries, but not to a significantly different degree than SpaceX, so that could be called a tie.

“And Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin?”

Since these companies are not involved in commercial cargo that comparison cannot be made.

But:

– United Launch Alliance (which includes Boeing) has a better record of meeting its goals on commercial launch.

– Sierra Nevada also needed a CCiCap extension, another tie.

– Boeing did not need a CCiCap extension.

The point is that none of those comparisons justifies the assertion that SpaceX is “beating the other groups off the line”. At best SpaceX is slightly underperforming them.

Additionally SpaceX has the problem of its claims that it was not going to be like the others, it was going to greatly outperform them. To date that is not happening.

“- Sierra Nevada also needed a CCiCap extension, another tie.

– Boeing did not need a CCiCap extension.”

The problem with that is that SpaceX’s milestones are a good deal further down the design and development path than the other two. So even if they’re doing well on their own stated pace, they’re behind the ball by at least a year or two from where SpaceX is. And they have been since the beginning of CCiCap. Even putting that aside your reply argues, at best, that they are tied in terms of CCDev and/or CCiCap performance. So I stand by my statement of SpaceX being the lead team at present.

All that said, I just want to restate that I’m not arguing for SpaceX in favor of Boeing, Sierra Nevada, or Blue Origin. I’ll be disappointed as hell if only one team is chosen, no matter who it is. I’d like to see them all succeed. I’m just opposing the idea that SpaceX is inherently less deserving and only getting contracts as a kick back from Obama.

“The problem with that is that SpaceX’s milestones are a good deal further down the design and development path than the other two.”

The milestones were jointly negotiated between NASA and the contractors to assure that NASA had the proper information to make decisions.

I am not flacking for Boeing, but the fact is Boeing met its milestones; Sierra Nevada and SpaceX did not. What (if any) affect that will have on the selection(s) I have no idea. It is curious that the decision(s) will supposedly be made when only one of the participants has completed the milestones.

There is no point in beating this any further, the choice(s) will be made and the selected vehicle(s) will either work or they will not. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch the show.

From the people I know that work at Wallops, Orbital has been doing very well.

Tom – I’m sure they have and from what I’ve seen, I’d agree. But I’m talking schedule, and you don’t need to have an in at Wallops to know they’ve suffered their fair share of delays. It’s in the press releases.

“To be fair, NASA has given Spacex enough work and should award the commercial Crew contract to Sierra Nevada and Boeing. ”

Nonsense!!!! Boeing and SNC have billions of dollars in government contracts. They aren’t little kids running a lemonade stand!!!

NASA needs to be ‘fair’ only to the taxpayers!!!! And SpaceX has a proven system that is signifcantly cheaper than using high dollar Russian rockets to loft the SNC and Boeing craft.

Truth of the matter is; Spacex did and does receive tax payer money from NASA for the development of their hardware.
Also a fact;
NASA feeds surplus equipment and supplies from the shuttle program thru the back door to help out spacex and this is highly illegal. This gives a contractor an unfair advantage over another. I know this thru people who are NASA civil servants at KSC.

“NASA feeds surplus equipment and supplies from the shuttle program thru the back door”

I raise the BS flag!

“Spacex did and does receive tax payer money from NASA for the development of their hardware.”

As opposed to the other contractors who pay for all of their dev costs, right? The CCDev, CCiCap, and other recent commercial programs all require substantial funding from the participants. That’s why Kistler eventually went by the wayside. They couldn’t scrounge up the investment capital outside of NASA. Blue Origin is the only one I’m aware of that has gone full on lone wolf at this point and even then they have unfunded space act agreements and had received funding in past programs on the CCiCap track. The old guard were and are 100% pay to play. If NASA didn’t pony up the cash they wouldn’t even write up a PowerPoint. So I’m really not sure what your point is here.

“NASA feeds surplus equipment and supplies from the shuttle program thru the back door to help out spacex and this is highly illegal.”

I second Jim’s BS call. Given the radical differences in everything from fundamental rocket design, to fuel, to strunctural layout I find it hard to believe anything in SpaceX’s roster has much more than an inspirational link to Shuttle. SpaceX doesn’t even manufacture their components the way shuttle did, as they heavily employ friction stir welding and 3D printing where shuttle was only just dipping its toe into that arena in its final days.

The mating rings for ISS are about the only shuttle-era component I’m aware of being shared, and that’s only because if they didn’t let contractors know how the legos all fit together, mating with ISS would be impossible. But do go on. If you really do have evidence of illegal, back-door hardware sharing, I’m all ears.

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