Boeing names its CST-100 manned capsule Starliner

The competition heats up: Boeing today unveiled “Starliner” as the new name for its CST-100 manned capsule.

This intensifies the competition because the new name is something the public can grab and identify. As long as Boeing was using the boring acronym they were holding back to stay in the boring do-nothing pork-laden government-funded NASA environment. Grabbing the public means they want the public to buy this product.

Posted from Spokane, Washington.

Update on Boeing’s CST-100

This article provides an update on the status of the construction of Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule.

It also describes NASA’s lobbying effort with Congress to get the full budget it had proposed for the construction of the commercial crew spacecraft.

I note instead the apparent bureaucratic focus of all the work Boeing seems to be doing.

Following the CBR [Certification Baseline Review], Boeing successfully completed the Ground Segment CDR (Critical Design Review) on 4 December 2014 before moving onto the Phase 2 Safety Review (Part B) in early January 2015. By mid-March, Boeing completed the Phase 2 Safety Review (Safety Technical Review Board Readiness) and moved on to the Delta Integrated CDR, which took place on 27 March 2015.

Since then, Boeing has spent the summer months conducting the Phase 2 Safety review (STRB 80%) as well as producing the CDR for the launch elements of the program and the Qualification Test Article Production Readiness Review.

Moreover, in late July, teams at the Kennedy Space Center began building the Structural Test Article (STA) for the CST-100 capsule inside former Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3 (OPF-3).

Lots of reviews, but notice in the last paragraph they have only begun building the first capsule. As much as these reviews might help them make sure they are doing things right, they seem to create a situation where the company is able to slow-walk construction to help NASA with its congressional lobbying effort, while simultaneously making it sound like they are accomplishing a lot.

NASA names its astronauts for the first Dragon and CST-100 flights

The competition heats up: NASA today named the four government astronauts that will fly on the first manned demo flights to ISS of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100.

Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams are veteran test pilots who have flown on the shuttle and the International Space Station. ….

NASA said the four astronauts will train with both companies and have not yet been assigned to flights. Two-person crews will fly the first test flights by each capsule, after they have completed an orbital test flight without people on board. Company proposals anticipate an all-NASA crew flying SpaceX’s Dragon test flight, with Boeing’s CST-100 carrying a split NASA-Boeing crew. Boeing has not yet identified its astronaut.

NASA schedules commercial manned demo missions to ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has now added to its ISS schedule the planned launch dates for the first demo missions of SpaceX’s and Boeing’s privately built manned capsules.

For Boeing, its CST-100 will first launch on an uncrewed test flight to the Station via the “Boe-OFT” mission in Apr, 2017 – on a 30 days mission, ending with a parachute assisted return. Should all go to place, the second mission will involve a crew – yet to be selected – on a mission designated “Boe-CFT”, launching in July, 2017, on a 14 day mission to the ISS.

The [planning] dates show SpaceX to be the most advanced in the Commercial Crew path, with their projected test flight dates currently set to win the honor of being the first Commercial Crew vehicle to arrive at the orbital outpost. That first Dragon 2 mission, designated “SpX-DM1″, has a December, 2016 launch date, ahead of a 30 day mission – most of which will be docked to the ISS – ending with a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific ocean. This would be followed by “SpX-DM2″, a crewed flight, launching in April of 2017, on a 14 day mission. This would mark the first time astronauts have launched from American soil on a US built spacecraft since Atlantis’ STS-135 mission in 2011.

American manned space exploration should begin to get very exciting in the next two years, with multiple companies now capable of putting humans in space.

Boeing’s commercial manned space effort

In reading this review of Boeing’s commercial manned space effort, this particular quote from Boeing Vice President John Elbon stood out:

“This year Boeing is celebrating its 100th year as a company. Bill (William) Boeing founded the company with a focus on flying air mail and establishing commercial air transportation through United Airlines. If you look at the company today, the commercial airline division of the company is a 70 billion dollar per year business.

“I believe firmly that when the company celebrates its second hundred years, there will be a division of Boeing building commercial space vehicles that will be of that magnitude.” [emphasis mine]

I see no reason not to agree with Mr. Elbon. If Boeing and SpaceX both get their manned vehicles working, and SpaceX and ULA begin to really compete for the launch market, the possibilities are as endless as they were 100 years ago during the early days of the aviation industry.

NASA explains why it picked Boeing over Sierra Nevada

In a report released by NASA late last week, the agency outlined the reasons it picked Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule over Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle for the second contract to provide manned ferry capabilities to ISS.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, which would take off on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and land on a runway like the space shuttle, is not as far along in development as the competing CST-100 and Crew Dragon capsules proposed by Boeing and SpaceX, according to a source selection statement signed by Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate. “A winged spacecraft is a more complex design and thus entails more developmental and certification challenges, and therefore may have more technical and schedule risk than expected,” Gerstenmaier wrote in the selection statement.

NASA wants to have the commercial crew capsules operational by the end of 2017 to end U.S. purchases of astronaut seats on Russia’s Soyuz ferry craft. Before NASA permits its astronauts to fly on the CST-100 and Crew Dragon, each spaceship will go through ground testing and complete unpiloted and crewed test flights.

The reasoning seems quite reasonable. It also suggests that Sierra Nevada might have a better shot at winning a contract during the next round for cargo, as scheduling will not be as critical since NASA has other alternatives to get cargo to ISS.

Boeing to bid CST-100 for ISS cargo contract

The competition heats up: Boeing has submitted a bid for the next round of ISS cargo missions, proposing to use its CST-100 manned craft as an unmanned freighter.

The cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft will be based on the crewed version the company is developing for NASA, said John Mulholland, Boeing commercial crew program manager. Boeing will remove spacecraft components not needed for crew missions, like its launch abort system and environmental controls, to free up room in the spacecraft for cargo. The cargo version of CST-100 would, like the crewed version, launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The cargo version will also be able to return cargo to Earth, landing in the western U.S. like the crewed version.

This makes sense to me.

Why NASA picked Boeing over Sierra Nevada

A NASA internal document obtained by Aviation Week outlines the agency’s reasons for rejecting Sierra Nevada and its Dream Chaser spacecraft in its commercial manned space program.

Although the document praises Sierra’s “strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished,” it cautions that the company’s Dream Chaser had “the longest schedule for completing certification.” The letter also states that “it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other ‘Offerors’.”

Discussing costs, Gerstenmaier says that “although SNC’s [Sierra Nevada] price is lower than Boeing’s price, its technical and management approaches and its past performance are not as high and I see considerably more schedule risk with its proposal. Both SNC and SpaceX had high past performance, and very good technical and management approaches, but SNC’s price is significantly higher than SpaceX’s price.”

The document essentially was written, and probably leaked to the press now, to justify the political decision to give the contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Thus, it waxes very enthusiastic about Boeing, since giving Boeing the contract, with the highest price and the least metal cut, needs some justification.

Sierra Nevada protests NASA manned spacecraft contact award

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has formally protested NASA’s decision to award Boeing and SpaceX manned spacecraft contracts.

The company said late Friday that its bid in the NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) was $900 million less than the bid submitted by Boeing, which won a contract worth as much as $4.2 billion to complete development, test fly and operate its CST-100 crew capsule. At the same time, SNC said, its proposal was “near equivalent [in] technical and past performance” source-selection scoring.

“[T]he official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance,” the company stated. “SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition.”

In other words, they are challenging NASA’s decision to pick Boeing over them, as their proposal was far cheaper.

We all know that Boeing got the contract as much for its political clout as for its technical expertise. NASA wanted to make sure that members of Congress who promote the Boeing jobs in their districts would have nothing to complain about. Whether Sierra Nevada can get the government to look past that political clout is very doubtful, though I think I support them whole-heartedly in their effort.

The Great Space Race

Yesterday the private commercial launch company SpaceX broke ground on its own private spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.

“This feels great. It feels like the future,” [SpaceX founder Elon] Musk said at the ground-breaking. … He intends to have the first launch in late 2016, with an initial 12 launches a year. Ultimately, “thousands of launches,” he projected. Furthermore, “when we start doing commercial crew activities, I would expect us to launch a crew from here,” he said.

The significance of this construction is not trivial. This will be the first spaceport built by a private company that will be used to launch its privately-built commercial rockets, and will do it for profit. Other spaceports have been established in the last decade for the purpose of private space tourism, but none have seen anything fly, and all those spaceports were some form of quasi-government operation.

SpaceX’s Brownsville spaceport, rumored to be dubbed Mars Crossing, is not a government-run operation, however. It will be wholly owned and operated by the company, and is being built to allow them to launch commercial satellites unconstrained by the rules that make launches from the government controlled spaceports at the Kennedy Space Center as well as Vandenberg Air Force Base in California difficult and complicated.

This ground-breaking also comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that SpaceX and Boeing have been chosen by NASA to build spacecraft to ferry human astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

It also comes at the same time the Russian government has reorganized its entire aerospace industry to place it under government control, committed billions for the accelerated construction of a new spaceport on Russian territory, and launched the first test flight of its own new rocket, Angara, designed to compete for commercial market share while also reenergizing the entire Russian space effort.

Nor is that all.
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The decision on manned spaceflight

The rumors are swirling. Today alone the news included three different articles about NASA’s upcoming decision to down-select to either one or two in its manned commercial crew program.

The third article above speculates that the decision will be made shortly after this weekend, maybe as soon as next week. It also outlines in nice detail the companies who are competing for the contract.

I strongly expect NASA to pick two companies, not one, as the agency has repeatedly said it wants to have redundancy and competition in manned space flight. To this I agree whole-heartedly. Right now, if I was a betting man (which I am not), I would pick SpaceX and Sierra Nevada as the two companies to get the nod.

If NASA only picks one company that I don’t think there is much doubt that it will be SpaceX.

And then again, government agencies, because of politics, have sometimes made some incredibly stupid decisions. For example, back in the 1970s the company that proposed the space shuttle was rejected for another big space company that had more political clout, which then turned around and essentially stole the first company’s designs to build the space shuttle from them. It just took longer and cost more.

What private manned spaceship will NASA pick?

Speculation grows on the upcoming down-select decision by NASA of its manned commercial space program.

Next up is the announcement of the transition to the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, to be announced later this month, or early in September, depending on political direction. Although the source selection process is obviously an internal debate, with its results embargoed until the time of the NASA announcement, it is hoped that two of the commercial crew providers will move forward with additional funding.

At the ASAP meeting, Ms. Lueders expressed “NASA’s desire to continue the partnerships even after the announcement, including with companies not selected.” That continued association may be in the form of unfunded Space Act Agreements (SAA), not unlike that which Blue Origin is currently working under, as it develops a crew capsule outside of the trio working with CCiCAP funding. “People are recognizing the value of competition and have an appreciation for shared knowledge,” added Ms. Lueders. “NASA has learned from the companies and the companies have learned from NASA. It would be a big plus to continue the relationships.”

As to which companies are likely to win through to the CCtCap phase, that is a tightly kept secret. However, over recent months, sources have noted NASA’s strong affection toward the multi-capable Dream Chaser, while SpaceX has a growing track record with its Falcon 9 and cargo-Dragon combinations via its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions. [emphasis mine]

My sense in the last few months has also leaned heavily in favor of Dragon and Dream Chaser, both of whom appear to be moving forward with construction at a fast pace. Boeing meanwhile has instead made it seem that it wishes to invest as little capital in its project as possible, unless it wins the competition. While the first two companies have unveiled real hardware, Boeing continues to show us mostly mock-ups.

An contract extension from NASA for SpaceX and Sierra Nevada

NASA has given SpaceX and Sierra Nevada six additional months, until March 2015, to complete their last contractual milestones for building their manned spacecraft.

An amendment signed by William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, on May 16 gives SpaceX until March 31, 2015, to complete the 14th and final milestone under its $440 million CCiCap agreement — a pad abort test of its Dragon capsule. The test originally was planned for April 2014.

On May 19, Gerstenmaier signed a similar amendment to Sierra Nevada’s $212.5 million CCiCap award to extend work associated with flight tests of the company’s Dream Chaser engineering test article until March 31, 2015.

NASA’s third Commercial Crew partner, Boeing, is on track to complete all its milestones, worth a combined $460 million, by the end of August,

The significance of this extension is that it reveals something about the dates for both SpaceX and Sierra Nevada’s next flight tests. The previously date for the pad abort test for Dragon had most recently been set for this summer. They are obviously not meeting that schedule and need more time. Sierra Nevada meanwhile wants to fly its Dream Chaser test vehicle some more, but apparently needs time to get it flight ready after it sustained damage during landing on its one and only flight test.

In addition, this extension suggests something about NASA’s assessment of the efforts of all three companies. The agency is supposed to down select to two companies by the end of the summer. The extension suggests that they are hoping to keep all three companies funded so that they all build their spacecraft.

The assembly of Boeing’s CST-100 manned spacecraft is expected to begin soon.

The competition heats up: The assembly of Boeing’s CST-100 manned spacecraft is expected to begin soon.

Boeing takes over the OPF-3 lease in late June 2014 following an official handover ceremony from Space Florida. Assembly begins soon thereafter. … “The pieces are coming one by one from all over the country,” Ferguson explained. “Parts from our vendors are already starting to show up for our test article. “Assembly of the test article in Florida starts soon.”

Granted, Boeing’s lease for its assembly space at Kennedy has not yet started, but the vagueness of the assembly start date is a bit curious, and suggests that Boeing won’t begin assembly until they know they have won the contract from NASA, the announcement of which is presently scheduled for late summer 2014.

Aerojet has successfully completed engine tests for the launch abort system on Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule.

Aerojet has successfully completed engine tests for the launch abort system on Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule.

“In the past several weeks, the Aerojet Rocketdyne team conducted a series of eight tests on two Launch Abort Engines meeting or exceeding all test parameters,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne Program Manager, Terry Lorier. “The tests demonstrated engine performance for multiple mission duty cycles and proved operation and durability under extreme operating conditions. The success of this most recent test series clears the way for our team to proceed into qualification and production of the engine in the next phase of the program.”

Boeing is about to begin wind tunnel tests of its CST-100 manned capsule.

The competition heats up: Boeing is about to begin wind tunnel tests of its CST-100 manned capsule.

This is good, but there is something about the pace of development of the CST-100 that seems mighty slow to me. Last September there were indications that Boeing might shelve the project, which were countered in November by word that they were instead considering increasing their investment.

The slow pace suggests to me that management has rejected the latter. It also suggests that while they haven’t shelved the project, they are not pushing it hard, which means that eventually it will die because it will fail to compete with other more ambitious and competitive efforts.

Boeing indicated today that it is considering increasing its investment in its CST-100 manned capsule in order to accelerate its development.

Good news: Boeing indicated today that it is considering increasing its investment in its CST-100 manned capsule in order to accelerate its development.

I suspect that, after Boeing in September let leak the idea that they might shelve CST-100 if the space agency didn’t give them more money, NASA management instead told them in no uncertain terms that if they didn’t show a more serious commitment to building CST-100, they might lose the contract altogether.

Boeing and the fear of competition

Boeing has indicated that it might shelve its CST-100 manned capsule, despite their recent almost half a billion dollar contract award from NASA.

This possibility illustrates why Boeing is losing market share, not only in space, but in the aviation industry. The article suggests that the NASA contract might not be enough to pay for CST-100, and that Boeing is unsure there is enough private market to make up the difference.

“That’s just for the ISS. That’s kind of the basement,” adds Elbon. More flights than those to the ISS are required he says, and Boeing is cautious about over-committing itself while future revenue streams are unclear.

I say bull hockey.
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