An outline of Dream Chaser’s test flight schedule for the next three years, leading to its first crewed flight in 2017.


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An outline of Dream Chaser’s test flight schedule for the next three years, leading to its first crewed flight in 2017.

The article makes a big deal about Sierra Nevada’s completion of a NASA paperwork milestone, but to me the aggressive flight schedule is more interesting, including news that the engineering vehicle used in the test flight in October was not damaged in landing so badly it could no longer be used.

The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article (ETA) has since arrived back in her home port in Colorado, following her eventful exploits in California. Despite a red-faced landing for the baby orbiter, she earned her wings during an automated free flight over the famous Edwards Air Force Base, a flight that was perfectly executed, per the objectives of the Commercial Crew check list. The vehicle will now enjoy a period of outfitting and upgrading, preparing her for one or two more flights – listed as ALT-1 and ALT-2 – beginning later this year. Both will once again be conducted at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California.

The ETA will never taste the coldness of space, with her role not unlike that of Shuttle Enterprise, a pathfinder vehicle used to safely refine the final part of the mission for the vehicles that will follow in her footsteps. The Dream Chaser that will launch into orbit will be called the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), which is currently undergoing construction at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF). Debuting atop of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V, the OFT-1 (Orbital Test Flight -1) is scheduled to take place in late 2016. This flight will be automated, testing the entire Dream Chaser system, prior to the crewed OFT-2 mission in early 2017. [emphasis mine]

I think I will up my bet from yesterday. I am now willing to bet that all of the commercial crew spacecraft chosen by NASA to complete construction will fly their privately built manned spacecraft with crew before NASA flies its first unmanned test flight of Orion/SLS.

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12 comments

  • geoffc

    I am a chicken on betting. I however would be willing to bet SOME of the commercial vehicles will be flying before the SLS test flight in 2017. Not sure that ALL will, but some absolutely. SpaceX without question, short of a series of F9 crashes, they will be, based on their current path. Dream Chaser is looking pretty good. Heck even Boeing’s CST-100 is looking good.

  • David M. Cook

    My view is you’re probably right, but I feel that the “dinospace” companies should NOT be part of the space revolution. The major players were paid billions to develop hardware for the government, but never made the innovations necessary to make access to space cheaper, preferring to continue gouging the taxpayer with cost-plus contracts and unrealistically low estimations, resulting in massive cost overruns. Boeing, Lock-Mart and the rest need to be punished for their greed. Elon Musk is the “Henry Ford” of the 21st century, making space cheap enough for many more people who will create the newest and by far the largest industry of the future when we expand into the limitless environment of space.

  • I am not into “punishing” anyone when it comes to bad business practice. If Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the rest don’t get in the race and really compete, they will be punished naturally by competition and market forces. No need to do it intentionally. (Besides, giving someone the power to “punish” them should make us all very uncomfortable.)

    And what if these old companies get their act together and start to innovate and compete? From my perspective that is all to the good. They have many good engineers on their payrolls who know how to do this. If they finally let them do it we will all benefit with more and cheaper options for getting into space.

  • Kelly Starks

    >.. The major players were paid billions to develop hardware for the government, but never made the
    > innovations necessary to make access to space cheaper, ….

    Niether did SpaceX, Orbital, etc, after also given billions.

  • Kelly Starks

    CST-100 seems ahead of the others – and Boeing doesn’t seem likely to want to come late to the party. Though Boeing also is much more methodical and detailed. So they may take more time if needed to keep their quality edge, but but the bigger firms have far more resources, and move much more quikly then the smaller firms can – when they need to.

  • Edward

    ” The major players were paid billions to develop hardware for the government, but never made the innovations necessary to make access to space cheaper, preferring to continue gouging the taxpayer with cost-plus contracts and unrealistically low estimations, resulting in massive cost overruns.”

    This is a complex topic, but I will get into a couple of my pet peeves about it. I agree that all too often the bids submitted to government are low, but the government has analysts who determine whether they are unrealistic. If so, they can throw out the bid or request a more realistic bid. However, once a contract has been signed, any requested requirement changes may end up with high price tags, and many contracts end up with requested requirement changes. Government discovers a new capability — that something can be better — so they want it better, and they are willing to pay for it. It’s almost like the government discovers that an amp can go to 11, so they *must* have theirs go to 11.

    I worked on commercial communications satellites for a while, and one customer discovered the “11 option,” but once they found out the price and delay, they weren’t so interested anymore. Government all too often is willing to pay the price and accept the delay (the cost of delay is usually/always far greater than the cost of the change itself), and then that is reported as cost and schedule overruns.

    There is also a problem with development of state of the art hardware, as it can be difficult to estimate these costs and schedules; NASA’s Lunar Module was one such problem, as no one had ever built anything even remotely like it before. I understand that this is also the main problem with the expense and delay of JWST, too.

    Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirements also cause contracts to be just plain old expensive. That is why so many people are so excited about the new-fangled Space Act Agreement for contracting requirements. It gets rid of several expensive requirements without adversely affecting the resulting products.

    The “gouging” mostly comes from the way the government usually does business with its contractors. It is as though the government insists upon overly expensive hardware. Government seems to be so concerned about being gouged that it set up rules that resulted in high costs (as you call it: gouging) as standard operating procedure. (I may be wrong, but it seems to me that projects end up with more bean counters than engineers and technicians combined.) It is why the SLS is costing an arm and a leg, even though it is almost certain to never fly. It is why Orion is costing so much more than the entire COTS, and possibly the whole CCDev (all four original competitors) costs thrown in, too.

    Thus, the contractors look bad for doing just what the government requested and required and for playing the FAR game. There is a lot of room for improvement in the FAR requirements.

  • Pzatchok

    Orion/SLS will never fly.

    As soon as a private company can launch passengers congress will cut funding for Orion and then NASA will try desperately to keep it going by changing its expectations and missions.

    They may eventually get something to fly but it will not be what they are planning for now.

  • David M. Cook

    I certainly don’t want the government “punishing” anyone! I meant the market will (hopefully) punish dinospace for their excesses. Dinos were given billions to open space but it still costs Uncle Sam $800 million to launch a large spy satellite. Sure, Musk got a few billion, but look at what he has done with it: A new engine, new launchers, new capsule (soon to be crewed!) and he isn’t done! The government didn’t tell him to make a resusable booster, he saw the logical progression for making space access cheaper so that’s the direction he’s going. The Ford analogy is particularly apt, because by making space access cheaper Musk will greatly enlarge the market. Ford created competitors, but he remained large and got even bigger, even though other concerns entered the (rapidly expanding) market he created by making “highway access” relatively cheap.

    Edward, please don’t get me started with all that is wrong with the government procurement system! You make good points and I agreed with all of them, but I still feel the dinos are addicted to Congress’s never-ending money supply and have failed the general public by keeping space access costly. Sure, Grumman made the LM and it was very successful, but where can I buy a Grumman “Lunar Hopper” for myself? Why does an Atlas cost $800 mil when Musk can do the same mission for $50 mil? Let the dinos keep the government market; Musk and the others will clean up by serving the rest of us at more realistic prices.

  • Edward

    “I still feel the dinos are addicted to Congress’s never-ending money supply and have failed the general public by keeping space access costly.”

    Oh, yes. They are definitely addicted to serving government and following the hideously expensive rules. When there was supposed to be a peace dividend at the end of the cold war, several dinos tried to become more commercial, with mostly poor results.

    Lockheed was once a supplier of commercial airliners, but discovered that was not profitable for them and FAR contracts were.

    In the 1980s, a couple of companies tried to serve the government with different business plans. One made the F-20 Tigershark on its own dime as an alternate to the FAR acquisition system, but the government wouldn’t buy it, so no one tried that again. Another company worked on a fixed price contract but went over budget, and when an auditor saw that they did not charge the government and put the overruns on overhead charges), the government sued for mischarging (later thrown out of court) — and fixed price contracts remain rare (SBIRS 5 and 6 are the only other fixed price contract that I am aware of).

    Space Systems/Loral is the only company that I know of that successfully weaned itself from government/defense work.

    The encouragement is toward the addiction, and they are discouraged from trying rehab.

  • Kelly Starks

    Having been on some of those gov contracts. The gov initially pushs contractors to bid low so they can get the contract past congress, and then after the award – they keep adding things and changing things, which run up the cost. Congress and the agencies often push the companies to eat the costs that are the govs fault.

    Bottom line, the companies are NOT wasting a bunch of money and time to get rich. Really, they have all gotten so burned, most have lost so much money on such contracts, they went bankrupts, or just no longer go for government contracts.

    I’m not real sympathetic with the “big companies ripping off the gov” bull. Bluntly, if they weer lining their pockets with huge profit margins – they wouldn’t be going broke or getting out of the busness.

    On the flip side. NASA needs to get programs approved, and bigger more expensive, more inefficent programs get more voter support, hence congressional support. So they are loath to accept cost reduction proposals. In some cases spending huge amounts of money to induce companies to drop big cost reduction proposals. Definatly they weer not receptive to them. I’ve personally been in meetings where even a off hand comment that “…more heads wouldn’t help with the schedules because…” was cut off by civil servant managers excited by a excuse to increase staffing, ignoring the contract managers insistence that this would slow things down, eagerly assured them that they could get more people … and he proceeded to put in the order for the increase people, the company staff didn’t want to hire.

    These are reasons why Constellation was designed in such a rediculas and costly way. To dramaticaly increase costs over the previous shuttle based lunar return concepts, and go to bigger flashier, rarer launches to build public interest.

  • Kelly Starks

    >..Dinos were given billions to open space..

    No they wern’t. That was explicitly not a acceptable result for the gov. Congress and NASA have repeatedly ignored the companies designs that would dramatically lower costs. In the ’90’s the companies offered to develop RlV’s out of pocket with no gov funds involved, if the gov would buy them if they were AT LEAST ten times cheaper to operate. Congress ordered DOD to not consider them, and NASA paid L/M a billion dollars to drop it and do what NASA wanted – which was a X plane and no threat to Shuttle.

    McDonnel/Douglas’ DC-X reusable was radically cheaper to operate — and hence ignored buy gov, adn no group of commercials had a need for so capable a craft.

    ==
    >..Sure, Musk got a few billion, but look at what he has done with it: A new engine, new launchers,
    > new capsule (soon to be crewed!) and he isn’t done! …

    And none of it works very well. Very high failure rates, etc. [When you do things 100 times cheaper then NASA, and several times cheaper then legendary teams in the busness – or commercials in any field. Lets so no one in the busness in the US or internationals is surprized by the low quality.

    The fact his per tone costs are so much HIGHER then the traditional suppliers or Shuttle

    >… One made the F-20 Tigershark on its own dime ..

    Thats Northrupt. It wasn’t built for sale to the US (except as a traininer) but to other lower tier nations who needed a high performance, low cost fighter.

    It went over so badly, it pretty much bankrupted the company.

    >..Space Systems/Loral is the only company that I know of that successfully weaned itself from government/defense work.

    There are serveral others — though I think SS/L is still in the busness, though possibly in another name.

  • Edward

    > they keep adding things and changing things, which run up the cost.

    By “they,” of course, you mean the government customer. I agree with your comments, Kelly.

    To expand further, the government FAR acquisition system is designed and operated in an inefficient manner. It makes projects cost more than necessary and take longer than needed to finish. The system is so deeply ingrained that the contractors have written it into their ISO 900X documentation, and since this documentation is a promise to their customer about how they operate and produce, it is difficult for them to perform their contracts in any other manner. Thus, they remain “addicted” to “gouging” their government customer.

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