More news from commercial space: Assuming it gets the necessary funds, Boeing anticipates flight tests of its CST-100 reusable manned capsule by 2016.
This story is part of the on-going lobbying effort to convince the Luddites in Congress to subsidize the new commercial space companies. To get some context, even if Congress gives NASA all of the money it has requested for this program, the annual cost will still be less than a third of the NASA-built Space Launch System, and will get us four different ways to get humans and cargo into orbit, and do it in far less time.
Boeing today successfully completed an 11,000 foot parachute drop test of its CST-100 reusable manned capsule.
Another success for commercial space, which based on the opinions of our elected officials means they must cut this program’s budget.
Boeing vs Boeing.
The story describes how Boeing is considering upgrading the X-37B to become a manned ferry to ISS, thus putting it in direct competition with the company’s other manned capsule, the CST-100.
At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s Space 2011 conference in November, Boeing’s Arthur Grantz revealed that the company is studying a new derivative of the Boeing/USAF X-37B. The new X-37C would be 65-80% larger than the current B version. Launched by an Atlas V rocket, X-37C could carry pressurized or unpressurized cargo or 5-6 astronauts. Grantz is chief engineer in charge of X-37 at the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems Experimental Systems Group .
Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.
SpaceX successfully test fired today an upgraded engine to be used in the Dragon capsule in case of a launch abort.
Getting to know Dream Chaser.
On Thursday, December 15, 2011, NASA management announced what seemed at first glance to be a very boring managerial decision. Future contracts with any aerospace company to launch astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will follow the same contractual arrangements used by NASA and SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for supplying cargo to the space station.
As boring that sounds, this is probably the most important decision NASA managers have made since the 1960s. Not only will this contractual approach lower the cost and accelerate the speed of developing a new generation of manned spaceships, it will transfer control of space exploration from NASA — an overweight and bloated government agency — to the free and competitive open market.
To me, however, the decision illustrates a number of unexpected consequences, none of which have been noted by anyone in the discussions that followed NASA’s announcement back in mid-December.
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Good news: NASA has decided to stick with essentially the same contracting arrangement it used for the SpaceX and Orbital Sciences cargo deals to ISS in its future commercial crew and cargo contracts.
This suggests that the NASA bureaucracy, which had wanted more control of the new commercial companies by using a more restrictive contract arrangement, has lost. However, we don’t yet have the details on how the new contracts will be administrated, and as always, the devil is in the details.
Building Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule, the smart way.
From pressure seals used on the international space station to rendezvous and docking sensors developed for the Pentagon’s Orbital Express experiment, Boeing is drawing heavily on heritage space and aviation programs for its proposed CST-100 commercial human spacecraft.
Another commercial company vies for NASA’s business, this time using old surplus Russian space station modules.
Andrew Gasser at the Tea Party in Space website today argues strongly for Congress to fully fund the new commercial space program at the $850 million amount requested by the Obama administration.
As much as I am for these new commercial companies, I do not think it a good idea to fund them at these high levels.
For one thing, the government is still broke. It can’t afford to spend that much money. It is therefore unseemly for a website that uses the “tea party” label to advocate more spending at this time.
For another, the more money the government commits to these companies, the more control the government is going to demand from them. Far better to keep the government participation as small as possible. Make it just enough to allow the companies to succeed but not enough so as to make the whole effort a government program.
At a press conference today, NASA and ATK announced a new launch development agreement, running through March 2012, to help develop ATK’s Liberty solid rocket into a launch vehicle that could bring both cargo and crews to ISS.
The agreement provides ATK no funds, but is designed to give ATK as much support from NASA as possible in developing Liberty, tested fired last week for only the third time. If this initial agreement goes well, it will position ATK to compete for the next round of development subsidizes.
According to ATK, they think they could launch by 2015, and are hoping to provide a rocket capable of flying the spacecraft and freighters of Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, and even SpaceX (should Falcon 9 have problems and they need a rocket to launch Dragon).
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More speculation here and here on what the ATK/NASA announcement later today will be about. As Jeff Foust notes,
Last Friday NASA announced that the space agency and ATK would announce an agreement this Tuesday “that could accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities”. (The announcement was originally going to be only available to media calling into a telecon line, but NASA said Monday the announcement will be on NASA TV at 3 pm EDT.) The announcement has generated various degrees of glee or despair, depending on one’s opinions about ATK’s work on solid rocket motors it has proposed for its Liberty rocket and is seeking to have incorporated into NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket.
ATK and NASA to announce a new commercial space agreement on Tuesday.
This is almost certainly in connection to the successful third test firing of ATK’s solid rocket yesterday.
Clark Lindsey has written a very nice and short summary of the present political battles over NASA’s budget and its future manned space rockets.
The immediate consequences of the Progress freighter failure:
The longer term consequences? Congress will anguish over the lack of a shuttle. Some will demand more money for the program-formerly-called-Constellation, while others will demand more money for the new commercial companies. In either case, they will ignore the reality of a bankrupt federal government that simply can’t afford either at the moment.
Blue Origin, one of the four commercial companies NASA hopes to use to get crew up and down from ISS, plans to do a test flight tomorrow. Hat tip to SpaceRef.
This company, founded by Jeff Bezos of amazon.com, has generally released very little information about their effort.
The new commercial space companies are challenging NASA’s new contracting policy.
The article covers the conflict that I described in this post, whereby NASA is abandoning the more flexible contracting approach used for the commercial cargo contracts of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences and going instead with the contracting system it used for all past NASA subcontracts.
The article is errs badly when it calls the new contracting approach that NASA wants to use “non-traditional.” It is instead the way NASA has been doing things for decades, whereby the agency takes full control of everything and requires contractors to fill out so much paperwork that the costs double and triple.
Turf war: At conference yesterday at the Johnson Space Center, NASA proposed changing how it issues its commercial space contracts so as to give it more control over their design and construction. The commercial companies are not happy.
Brett Alexander, a space industry consultant who counts among his clients the secretive aerospace startup Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., said at the July 20 briefing that industry needs to know NASA’s legal reasoning for dismissing SAAs as an option for the next CCDev round. “From an industry standpoint … we’re kind of flying blind because [NASA] has not divulged what its legal reasoning is, and I think they need to do that in writing. Not a couple charts, not things that you brief, but a legal brief that says ‘here’s why’” a traditional procurement is necessary.
My own sources say this change in contractual approach will significantly slow development of the new commercial manned space rockets and ships, possibly beyond 2017.
The only reason I can see for NASA to do this is to maintain control over manned space, even if they are not building anything. I think NASA is instead going to find out that doing anything to slow this development will be politically very dangerous for them.
The transition to private space: Sierra Nevada hires former NASA engineers and astronauts.
New Space: Sierra Nevada plans to drop test its Dream Chaser spaceplane in 2012 using Scaled Composites’ WhiteKnightTwo.
In picking the winners for its commercial manned space subsidizes, NASA gave more priority to the spacecraft — either capsules or spaceplane — above the rockets needed to launch it.
Some details behind Blue Origin’s manned spacecraft.
NASA has awarded the next set of commercial crew development agreements, giving contracts worth from $22 to $92 million to four companies, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing. More here and here.
The amounts that NASA is giving these companies is minuscule, compared the monies spent on the program-formerly-called-Constellation. Yet I bet they all get their rockets/capsules launched and in operation, supplying cargos and crews to low Earth orbit, before NASA even test fires its heavy-lift rocket.