GAO report on Commercial Crew: 'The hell they will launch before 2019'

GAO report on Commercial Crew: ‘The hell they will launch before 2019’

NASA hopes that its Commercial Crew Program will allow the agency to send astronauts to the International Space Station and free the agency from its dependence on Russia. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

NASA hopes that its Commercial Crew Program will permit the company to ship astronauts to the International Space Station and free the company from its dependence on Russia. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Predictions by SpaceX’s president, Gwynn Shotwell, that the corporate’s Crew Dragon spacecraft would fly with astronauts by 2018 seem like inaccurate. Similarly Boeing’s entry in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aren’t anticipated to capable of obtain key certification goals this yr both, in accordance with a authorities report.

This evaluation is predicated on a current report submitted on July 11, 2018, by the Government Accountability Office. It notes that SpaceX’s common certification date is now estimated to be January of 2020, with Boeing predicted to succeed in its certification milestone by December of 2019. 

SpaceX has made bold claims relating to the corporate’s crewed house exploration efforts. Company representatives have acknowledged that it deliberate to ship vacationers across the Moon this yr (2018) as was famous in a report by Kenneth Chang that appeared within the New York Times.

An Atlas V 422 rocket propels Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft skyward in this artist's depiction. The company is one of two contracted under NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

An Atlas V 422 rocket propels Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft skyward on this artist’s depiction. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Given SpaceX will not be capable of ship crews to low-Earth orbit before 2020 suggests the Hawthorne, California-based firm will not be sending vacationers across the Moon inside this timeframe. 

During a press convention held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in February of 2017, Shotwell acknowledged: “I’m confident that we’ll fly crew in 2018. The response to the report this morning was, the hell we won’t fly before 2019.” Shotwell’s confidence was not supported by the July 11, 2018 GAO Report which acknowledged:

“In April 2018, the program’s schedule risk analysis found there was zero percent chance that either contractor would achieve its current proposed certification milestone.”

The GAO Report goes on to notice that these points recommend a constant sample of conduct with each contractors:

“Our analysis also shows that the contractors often delay their schedules. Both contractors have repeatedly stated that their schedules are aggressive and have set ambitious—rather than realistic—dates, only to frequently delay them.”

While SpaceX’s proclamations have been daring, the opposite participant in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, has been extra subdued. 

With a pad abort at present slated to happen later this yr, Boeing has found that in a possible abort situation the spacecraft might tumble. NASA additionally famous attainable interplay between Starliner’s warmth defend and its parachute system might lead to points requiring a redesign that might trigger a delay of not less than a further six months.

Roger Krone, the president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems acknowledged on SpaceFlight Now in 2010 that Starliner could possibly be operational by 2015 if the required funding was supplied.

Boeing was awarded a contract price an estimated $four.2 billion to provide and certify the corporate’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft by 2017, with SpaceX successful a $2.6 billion to assemble and certify their Crew Dragon spacecraft. 

Old Issues Return

On Sept. 16, 2016 a buckled liner in one of many carbon overwrapped pressure vessels within the higher stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 allowed super-cooled liquid oxygen to build up. This was then ignited on account of friction and exploded. The ensuing conflagration noticed the lack of the Falcon 9, the $185 million Amos-6 satellite tv for pc and a great a part of the launch web site. The rocket was on the pad being ready for a static check fireplace when the accident befell. Unfortunately, this was not the lone accident to befall SpaceX with an “over-pressure” occasion inflicting the lack of that Falcon 9 in addition to the Dragon spacecraft that was sure for the International Space Station with greater than four,000 kilos (1,800 kilograms) of provides and experiments.

SpaceX Merlin 1D rocket engine Hawthorne California Falcon 9 v1.1 SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX’s Merlin 1D rocket engine has achieved a powerful monitor file in a really quick period of time. The engine was designed from the outset to be crew-rated – a essential side contemplating what the engines’ subsequent huge job is. Photo Credit: SpaceX

The 9 Merlin 1D engines that the Falcon 9 rocket makes use of have additionally encounter issues which have raised considerations about their security when used to ship astronauts on their approach to the ISS.

While Shotwell expressed confidence the cracks (see video under) that appeared within the generators of Merlin 1D engines wouldn’t be a difficulty. The GAO Report was much less sanguine in regards to the matter. NASA had acknowledged that the difficulty represented an unacceptable danger for human spaceflight. The report went on to notice that: …this danger will not be closed till SpaceX efficiently completes qualification testing in accordance with NASA’s requirements with none cracks. 

NASA has additionally expressed considerations about fueling the rocket with crew already perched atop. However, the company seemed to be softening their stance on this matter. Amos-6 was additionally on prime of the Falcon 9 when the explosion occurred. It is unclear if this difficulty continues to current an issue when it comes to how SpaceX is planning to launch crew. SpaceX responded to the problems raised by agreeing to display the viability of their fueling procedures:

“To higher perceive the propellant loading procedures, this system and SpaceX agreed to display the loading course of 5 instances from the launch web site within the ultimate crew configuration previous to the crewed flight check. The 5 occasions embody the uncrewed flight check and the in-flight abort check. Therefore, delays to these occasions would result in delays to the agreed upon demonstrations, which might in flip delay the crewed flight check and
certification milestone.”

Not together with the CRS-7 anomaly, SpaceX has had no points undertaking common provide runs to the International Space Station through the uncrewed cargo variant of its Dragon spacecraft. The final Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-15) Dragon was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 on June 29, 2018. 

Despite the GAO Report’s tone, which could have been fostered by info supplied this Spring, SpaceX has made progress towards returning the power to launch astronauts on its personal to the U.S.

A Crew Dragon spacecraft was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week in preparation for its first flight. The car had solely only recently accomplished thermal vacuum and acoustic testing in Ohio at NASA’s Plum Brook Station.

The GAO acknowledged that additional delays on this schedule are “likely.” The core theme of the Report focuses on crew security and whereas each contractors have made progress, dangers stay. Per the Report:

“NASA’s certification process addresses the safety of the contractors’ crew transportation systems through several mechanisms, but there are factors that complicate the process. One of these factors is the loss of crew metric that was put in place to capture the probability of death or permanent disability to an astronaut. NASA has not identified a consistent approach for how to assess loss of crew. As a result, officials across NASA have multiple ways of assessing the metric that may yield different results. Consequently, the risk tolerance level that NASA is accepting with loss of crew varies based upon which entity is presenting the results of its assessment. Federal internal controls state that management should define risk tolerances so they are clear and measurable. Without a consistent approach for assessing the metric, the agency as a whole may not clearly capture or document its risk tolerance with respect to loss of crew.”

In the 2014 NASA awarded firm-fixed value contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, price an estimated $6.eight billion. In an article showing on Business Insider revealed in 2016 it was estimated that the company at the moment had paid Russia $three.37 billion to ship astronauts to the ISS. Seats on board the Soyuz spacecraft, which may hint its lineage again to 1966 are estimated at costing greater than $70 million per seat.

For NASA, the GAO Report possible means additional reliance on Russia for entry to the ISS. This is a standing that has existed since July 21, 2011, when the final house shuttle mission, STS-135 was carried out aboard Atlantis – which now resides on the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex – a well-liked vacationer vacation spot. The two different shuttle orbiters that have been flight worthy, Discovery and Endeavour, relaxation in museums situated in Virginia and California (respectively).

SpaceFlight Insider reached out to representatives with NASA and Boeing relating to the report’s findings. As of the publication of this text, we’ve not obtained a response.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider



Jason Rhian spent a number of years honing his abilities with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and different organizations. He has supplied content material for retailers resembling: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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