NSS Congratulates SpaceX Team — Calls on Congress to Fully Fund Commercial Crew & Space Technology

Washington, DC-June 1 – The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team on the Dragon spacecraft’s historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and its safe return to Earth yesterday.

“The mission was truly spectacular and marks a watershed moment in space history – proving that the commercial sector can successfully service the ISS,” said NSS Executive Director Paul E. Damphousse. “We were especially fortunate to celebrate the Dragon’s grappling at ISS on Friday morning with NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., who was at that very moment addressing an audience of nearly one thousand at NSS’s recent International Space Development Conference (ISDC).”

ISDC, the National Space Society’s annual conference, wrapped up in Washington, DC earlier this week. Administrator Bolden was delivering the opening keynote speech just as Dragon approached and then berthed at the ISS.

The safe return of Dragon and the advancement of commercial cargo and crew programs mark true milestones on the path to enabling a space-faring civilization. NASA’s efforts to advance space technology will also have a significant impact: technologies such as cryogenic propellant storage and transfer (CPST), solar electric propulsion (SEP), and advanced robotics are “mission-multipliers,” and are but a few examples being advanced by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. These efforts will help to enable robust space operations while providing dramatic reductions in overall costs.

The National Space Society recognizes that there is still much to be done, and maintains that strong leadership in government will be critical going forward. In this context, NSS calls on the Senate to fully fund the commercial crew development program and space technology lines of the NASA budget as proposed in the President’s budget request earlier this year, removing the proposed cuts made by the House in May. While NSS acknowledges the difficult budgetary parameters under which Congress must work, we strongly encourage both the Senate and the House to accede to the President’s FY2013 budget request for both commercial crew and space technology during conference later this year.

“The successful conclusion of SpaceX’s COTS-2/3 missions has demonstrated that the commercial sector is now ready to move forward with increased responsibility for servicing ISS, including the development of crew transport capability,” Damphousse said. “If funded and executed correctly, the commercial crew program will end our sole reliance on foreign providers and bring that capability – and the jobs associated with it – back home. We should be preserving funding for these commercial and space technology programs – which are producing tangible successes today, and will continue to do so in the near-term and beyond – rather than shifting it to already well-funded programs that may be years away from providing results.”

About the National Space Society: NSS is an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded when the National Space Institute and the L5 Society merged in 1987, NSS is widely acknowledged as the preeminent citizen’s voice on space. NSS has over 10,000 members and supporters, and over 50 chapters in the United States and around the world. The society publishes Ad Astra magazine, an award-winning periodical chronicling the most important developments in space. To learn more, visit www.nss.org.

SpaceX Completes Seventh of Ten CCDev2 Goals

Dragon Seats
Astronauts Help SpaceX Evaluate Seating Aboard Dragon
Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has completed the seventh of ten goals associated with its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) round 2 contract with NASA, according to a NASA announcement. The crewed Dragon is designed to ferry humans to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the International Space Station (ISS), and return.

The accommodations for seven astronauts, engineers or scientists, were reviewed by veteran space shuttle astronauts and NASA engineers. Two two-day sessions were conducted recently, and NASA Commercial Spaceflight Director Philip McAlister stated that “I am very pleased with the progress SpaceX and our other commercial partners are making during the CCDev2 effort”.

The prototype crewed Dragon was outfitted with seats, lighting, environmental control and life support systems, conceptual displays and controls, cargo racks and other interior systems. Space shuttle veterans Rex Walheim, Tony Antonelli, Eric Boe and Tim Kopra conducted tests entering and exiting the Dragon capsule under normal and emergency conditions.

Other tests involved reach and visibility, and NASA engineers provided a lot of feedback on these critical interior systems based on their fifty years of human spaceflight experience.

The current phase 2 contract for CCDev (pdf), runs through 31 July 2012.

SpaceX Forms Safety Advisory Panel

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), announced it has assembled a team of outside experts to advise the company about safety and human spaceflight systems. The panel has been tasked with providing objective assessments of the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket in order to provide high levels of safety for the human crew. Members of the panel include:

  • Dr. Leroy Chiao, PhD, Former NASA astronaut, Former International Space Station commander, member of the Augustine Commission (Review of United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee).
  • Dr. G. Scott Hubbard, Former Director of NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
  • Dr. Richard T. Jennings, MD, MS, Former Chief of Medicine for NASA Johnson Space Center, University of Texas Medical Branch professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center.
  • Captain Mark Kelly, Former NASA astronaut, Former Space Shuttle commander, Retired Navy Captain.
  • Dr. Edward Lu, PhD, Former NASA astronaut.

The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to be launched at the end of April aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The flight is designed to satisfy the goals of both the SpaceX COTS 2 and COTS 3 missions (Commercial Orbital Transportation System).

Success would mean that SpaceX could begin fulfilling its $1.6 Billion contract with NASA for 12 missions to the International Space Station and delivery of more than 44,000 pounds of supplies.

Following several years of COTS deliveries to ISS, continuing development of the Dragon would lead to the ability to fly humans to the ISS under the Commercial Crew Development program (CCDev). The Safety Advisory Panel will play a key role in the transition from cargo to human flight for the Dragon.

Dr. Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut and ISS crew member, is now with SpaceX as the DragonRider Project Manager. This is the position responsible for the manned program. Popular Science carried an extensive interview with Reisman about the Safety Advisory Panel.

Dragon at ISSArtist’s View of the Dragon Spacecraft Docked to the International Space Station
Image Credit: SpaceX

NASA Defends 2013 Budget Request

NASA Administrator Bolden
Image Credit: Space News

Responding to accusations by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing that the Administration was siphoning money from the Orion capsule and Senate Launch System (SLS) to speed up the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said:

We want to reach a date in the future where everything comes together. It doesn’t do us any good if I have an Orion vehicle that’s ready to fly a year before I have a launch vehicle. It doesn’t do any good to have a launch vehicle to fly a year before I have a crew module to put on it, and it definitely doesn’t do me any good if I have Orion and SLS teamed together and ready to launch sitting in the [Vertical Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center] because the launch facility is not complete.

Bolden noted that the earliest that the SLS could launch Orion is 2021.

As for the CCDev program, Bolden reminded the committee that NASA’s original request was for more than a Billion dollars, and that this was trimmed to $850 Million, which is what pushed the first launch from 2015 to 2017. With annual costs of $405 Million for Russia to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), the two year delay will cost American taxpayers an additional $810 Million. Bolden said, “this is going to be cheaper for the American taxpayer in the long run.”

Further reductions down to the Congressional proposal of $406 Million, might well cripple the entire CCDev program.

Dragon Plans Renezvous with the International Space Station

Dragon at ISS
Artist Rendering of Dragon Preparing to Dock with the ISS
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced Friday that 7 February 2012 has been set as the preliminary target date for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to launch its Dragon cargo capsule on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission will launch the Dragon atop the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft will approach the space station and fly by at a distance of about two miles. Dragon will demonstrate station keeping, testing sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous, and the ability to abort an approach if necessary.

Once these objectives have been met, the Dragon capsule will make its final approach and the station crew will grapple the vehicle with the station’s robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.

The Dragon capsule will carry non-essential supplies and equipment and remain at the station for about two weeks. It will then detach and return to Earth where it will be recovered after splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. Dragon made a successful flight a year ago. If successful, the demonstration flight would prove SpaceX’s readiness to begin unmanned cargo deliveries to the station under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.

Voicing typical caution, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate stated that:

“There is still a significant amount of critical work to be completed before launch, but the teams have a sound plan to complete it and are prepared for unexpected challenges. As with all launches, we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success.”

Illustrating the size of the Dragon spacecraft, astronauts Cady Coleman and Mark Kelly examine the interior of the Dragon.

Dragon Cargo
Cady Coleman and Mark Kelly examine the interior of the Dragon Cargo Spacecraft
Image Credit: SpaceX

Below is a cutaway view of the arrangement of the cargo racks inside the Dragon capsule. Dragon is capable of delivering 6,000 kg (13,228 lbs) of payload up-mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and 3,000 kg (6,614 lbs) of payload down-mass upon the return to Earth. By comparison, the Russian Progress resupply vessels deliver about 2,700 kg of mass to LEO.

Dragon Cargo
Dragon Cargo Arrangement
Image Credit: SpaceX

Congress and the NASA Budget – Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

The Congress, in its shortsighted manner, has cut the Commercial Crew Development budget for NASA from $850 million to $406 million for Fiscal Year 2012. The result is that NASA will likely push back the scheduled launch of commercial manned spacecraft from SpaceX (Dragon), Orbital (Cygnus) or Boeing (CST-100) by two to three years.

Currently, America is paying, and will pay Russia around $450 million per year to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The additional two to three years translates to between $900 million and $1,300 million in additional cost to NASA in future years in order to save $444 million next year. Net loss to NASA and America is $456 million or more.

In the meantime, Congress appropriated several Billion dollars per year for a giant rocket that NASA did not request, and for which Congress has failed to appropriate any money for payloads to fly on the giant rocket.

Given Russia’s recent failures with the Soyuz rocket and the haste with which the doomed Fobos-Grunt mission to Mars was assembled, improperly tested and launched, America may want to consider shifting funds from the giant rocket no one wants (except the politicians in Florida, Utah and Alabama) to the Commercial Crew program, which everyone wants in order to get out from under the world’s sole reliance on Russia to support the ISS.

NASA to Investigate the Launch of Astronauts on the Atlas V

NASA and United Launch Alliance have agreed to share technical information concerning the use of the Atlas V to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Under the unfunded Space Act Agreement, ULA will provide data on the Atlas V.

NASA will share its human spaceflight experience with ULA and requirements for certification. In turn, ULA will provide NASA feedback about those requirements, including providing input on the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of NASA’s proposed certification approach.

Specifically, ULA will provide:

  • continue to advance the Atlas V CTS concept, including design maturation and analyses
  • conduct ULA program reviews as planned
  • perform a Design Equivalency Review
  • develop Hazard Analyses unique for human spaceflight
  • develop a Probabilistic Risk Assessment
  • document an Atlas V CTS certification baseline
  • conduct Systems Requirements Review

In 2010, NASA awarded $6.7 million to ULA to accompany its own $1.3 million investment to develop an Emergency Detection System (EDS) prototype test bed.