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NASA Awards New Commercial Crew Contracts

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the broadening-the-base dept.


FleaPlus writes "Continuing last year's successful CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) program, NASA has selected four companies to receive 'CCDev2' seed funding for commercial crew systems. The companies will only receive money if they meet development and testing milestones in the next year, with $75M going to SpaceX for developing their sidemount escape system and testing their Dragon capsule, $92M to Boeing for developing their CST-100 capsule, $80M to Sierra Nevada Corp.'s DreamChaser top-mounted spaceplane, and $22M for Blue Origin's capsule and pusher escape system."

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Couple of old timers (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | about 3 years ago | (#35865102)

sure come a long [photobucket.com] way [boeing.com]..

You always know a liar if he tells you, 'That'll never fly'.

Re:Couple of old timers (1)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | about 3 years ago | (#35866848)

Here we go - we gonna send this one out to the old school:
What more can I say wouldn't be here today If the old school hadn't paved the way...

On the real though, ain't nothing like the old school.

Here are the SAAs (3, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 3 years ago | (#35865122)

http://procurement.ksc.nasa.gov/documents/NNK11MS03S_Boeing_SAA_Combined_Redacted.pdf [nasa.gov]
http://procurement.ksc.nasa.gov/documents/NNK11MS01S_SAA-%20SNC_Redacted.pdf [nasa.gov]
http://procurement.ksc.nasa.gov/documents/NNK11MS02S_SAA_BlueOrigin_04-18-2011.pdf [nasa.gov]
http://procurement.ksc.nasa.gov/documents/NNK11MS04S_SAA-SpaceX.pdf [nasa.gov]

The SpaceX milestones amount to this:

  1. meeting
  2. design review
  3. another design review
  4. another design review
  5. testing of the crew cabin seats and controls (SpaceX is paying for this)
  6. design review
  7. more testing of the crew cabin seats and controls (SpaceX is paying for this)
  8. confirmation that SpaceX has built the parts required for the Launch Abort System test
  9. actually do the Launch Abort System test
  10. yet another design review

So, out of 10 milestones, 4 of them involve actual work and 6 are posturing, paperwork and oversight. And to think, Space Act Agreements are the most efficient way NASA does business.

Re:Here are the SAAs (4, Insightful)

ravenspear (756059) | about 3 years ago | (#35865148)

To say that design is not actual work is ludicrous.

I assume you are the type of coder that proceeds straight from requirements to hacking something together?

Re:Here are the SAAs (4, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | about 3 years ago | (#35865184)

It's not the design that is required, it's the design review process.

I've heard it described thus: justifying your design to supposed experts who quibble about the most inane parts of the design and ignore the most important. You could submit the most stupid stuff you can think of and they will debate you on the color of the paint you used.

Re:Here are the SAAs (2)

icebrain (944107) | about 3 years ago | (#35865964)

supposed experts who quibble about the most inane parts of the design and ignore the most important

Ain't that the truth...

The first review in our senior design project (interplanetary probe) had one NASA "expert" continually pestering us about what file format our images would be sent back as, and the colors we chose for our delta-V plots. None of them picked up that we had forgotten to put in any kind of attitude control system.

More recently, I've seen people up to the VP level start asking questions about what kind of fasteners we're using on the new test rigs when the purpose of the review was to figure out how to arrange all of our equipment in the new R&D building. The "design" he was asking about was simply a picture of existing equipment scaled up to a larger size as a placeholder.

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

Fallen Andy (795676) | about 3 years ago | (#35866138)

I know this will sound stupid. I really do. But - in the early 20th century and the early years of flight people took risks, and hell i think didn't design for anything except *achievement* in mind. I can't imagine riding into space with several 10's of thousands of tonnes of LoX,LH2 etc. ever being *safe*.

I close my eyes, and remember the "risky" (seriously risky) science books i read. Using Tetrachloromethane (Carbon Tet) to it's friends. Mercury, other things. (Shudders at the fibrous asbestos we picked out of the pipes around Wymondham College - all nissan huts).

Still here

Bet a load of older slashdotters actually *built* those oh so dangerous science experiments from SciAm in the old days - come on! i know you're out there and breathing still

---> Bureaucracy is a killer

It's only the *dreamer's* inside NASA/JPL that kept enough alive. But what do we have to point to to motivate the kids now? I grew up dreaming of the grand tour of the solar system, manned missions to Mars

Personally, I reckon if Elon Musk can reboot, reload our visions then good luck to him

My gut instinct is that 10-20 years from now, the biggest provider of finance to SpaceX will be - the Chinese, not NASA - $100million is chicken feed....


Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#35867220)

My gut instinct is that 10-20 years from now, the biggest provider of finance to SpaceX will be - the Chinese, not NASA - $100million is chicken feed....

My gut instinct says the private sector. Billions of dollars is chicken feed to them as well, they'll actually want what SpaceX has to offer, and they won't steal SpaceX's IP.

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

Gravatron (716477) | about 3 years ago | (#35868832)

Actually, I think it's more exciting now. When I was a kid, the Us had one vehicle: the STS. Now? Now we have several companies all trying to built their own vehicles, cheaper then NASA could do it alone. The result should hopefully be more manned missions, to more destinations.

Also thought it was cool that the number of potential destinations also increased. When i was a kid, there were 9 planets. Now we have 8 planets, 4 dwarf planets, and god only knows how many TNO's, as well as hundreds of exoplanets.

Re:Here are the SAAs (4, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | about 3 years ago | (#35866436)

I work with NASA so let me explain how we do things. I'm not saying it's the best way, just our way. Of course here is a good wiki that explains the government design review process. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_review_(US_Government) [wikipedia.org].

The design reviews are there to ... review the design. The milestones are just places to mark how far along the design is. They are there to provide a stopping point to work towards so that everyone involved can review what is being done to make sure you are on track and you are actually doing the work. It can provide an opportunity for grey beards to chime in with some things you may have forgot to check before you do a lot of detailed design. Also sometimes payments are made at those points. So 99.99% of the work is in the design leading up to those reviews and the review itself gives the contract officers a place to review the work and make changes if necessary. It also helps to make sure the project is on schedule and budget.

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

buback (144189) | about 3 years ago | (#35867544)

so you propose we just give them $75 million and walk away? What's wrong with making sure everyone is on the same page?

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

Bureaucromancer (1303477) | about 3 years ago | (#35865260)

Been said already, but he's not saying design isn't real work, he's saying that design reviews aren't. Moreover, a design review or two makes sense, but for a supposedly minor program with not very much money at stake 60% of the actual MILESTONES being reviews is crazy. I grant that what may be happening is that NASA is reviewing the designs at these points to ensure reasonable progress, but as Quantum said, that is never what I have heard of these things being, and beyond that, a reasonable process would fix the actual targest before hand rather than saying "we'll have a review at this point and decide if we're happy with where you are then".

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | about 3 years ago | (#35865930)

Sorry but IME that's just how serious engineering works, not software engineering usually I'll grant you, but by the time you've got to "Run first test engine" or "First engine off production line" or "First Launch" at each of those stages you've spent most of the money and pretty much already delivered the end product. Unless you want to have a single milestone at the end of the project...

You could have a milestone of "Initial architecture agreed" and that's a sensible thing to do is come up with an architecture and agree it with your customer, but how do you do that but have a design review? Same goes for "First Blueprints" "Tooling frozen" "First Model Testing" and so on, you normally also want to review not just the fact that the engine works but all the ancillery data, in many businesses you will produce something that works at your test, but how well does it work, what performance did it have, what error codes were generated, for that you need a design review.
Now this may not be how most software is produced (Outside of large companies) but it is certainly how most mechanical engineering is done and certainly how any safety critical systems are designed.

Re:Here are the SAAs (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 3 years ago | (#35865268)

Requirements?? Requirements???? I'm the type of coder who goes from grunts and hand gestures to hacking something together.

But then, what I'm doing isn't (literally) rocket science. I don't think many people (even Slashdotters) appreciate just how much engineering forethought goes into the simplest and most trivial things NASA does every day.

Re:Here are the SAAs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35867408)

Not all those reviews are of the same thing..
There's two parallel threads going on: the Launch Abort System (MS2, 4) and the rest of the system (MS 3,6)

the first one is for the Launch Abort system (LAS) concept review
The second (milestone 3) is a "Design Status Review" to present a "first draft" of the Falcon 9/Dragon at the system level.
The third (MS 4) is the LAS Propulsion Components PDR.. (following the LAS concept)
The fourth review (MS 6) is the second Design Status Review, at which there's a fair amount of "new" stuff that wasn't previously in a review: Safety and Mission assurance, abort system design requirements, and first draft of Human Certification.

Finally, Milestone 10 is the Concept Baseline review.. basically the "wrap up" with the whole design incorporating the test results. They can't do a real System Design Review, because, as noted in the doc, the requirements aren't fully known.

Who -didn't- get funding (4, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | about 3 years ago | (#35865258)

It's also quite interesting to note who -didn't- get funding in this round (but are of course contenders for future funding rounds):

ULA: This was the most surprising one, since basically all of the accepted non-SpaceX spacecraft proposals have ULA's Atlas V rocket as their baseline and would require upgrades to their emergency detection system. My thinking is that getting spacecraft development up and running was more urgent than making the necessary low-risk changes to existing rockets. If the spacecraft which baseline the Atlas V continue to develop smoothly, I strongly suspect ULA will get funding for CCDev3.

Paragon: They got funding in CCDev1 to develop their turnkey life support system. I get the impression that it's pretty much ready to use in other spacecraft designs now, so I guess from this point on most of their commercial crew income will come from selling their system to the spacecraft manufacturers.

ATK: One of the most anti-commercial companies in aerospace with quite a few politicians in their pockets, they created a bit of a stir when they announced their "Liberty" rocket. The Liberty was basically a rehash of their cancelled Ares I rocket with an Ariane upper stage. The stated reason for why they weren't chosen is because there's already enough potential rockets to launch on, although I expect to see a senator or two to raise a ruckus about this in the coming days. Apparently none of the spacecraft designers planned to use the ATK rocket as a baseline launcher, either.

United Space Alliance (USA): These are the folks who manage the soon-to-be retired Shuttle program. Their proposal was basically to commercialize the Shuttles and keep them operating. This wasn't considered to fit into the scope of CCDev though (and presumably would have cost an absurd amount of money), so USA ended up withdrawing their proposal.

Orbital Sciences: They proposed a lifting-body spaceplane kind of similar to Sierra Nevada's, but much more heavyweight.

Excalibur Almaz [excaliburalmaz.com]: A really interesting company which purchased and was working to upgrade some flight-proven reusable space capsules from the former Soviet Union's 70s-era military space station program.

There's a really fascinating selection statement from NASA [nasa.gov] which explains the rationale for which companies were and weren't chosen.

Re:Who -didn't- get funding (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 years ago | (#35867170)

Orbital Science is to me the real surprise here, as I expected them to do better. They seem to "get it" in terms of what NASA is expecting with the COTS/CCDev proposals and has been able to get money in the past for some very interesting work, especially with their Taurus II vehicle.

As for ATK, they seem to be going into a rabbit hole. Living in Utah, I have some neighbors who work at the Plymouth, Utah facility, where they are convinced that the solid rockets are the only way to get into space. I don't know where to start there, but I will say that I've seen the SRB tests and there is some impressive although expensive engineering that has taken place. They are really struggling in terms of what to do with that facility now that the shuttle program is over.

As for Excalibur Almaz, I had no idea that a non-US based company could even compete in the CCDev process. They are a scrappy little company in a very unusual place for spaceflight development (Isle of Man), but I was under the impression that American companies need only apply. I like their products and I have high hope that they will eventually become a major player in the spaceflight industry. They certainly are a company to watch for in the future and I don't think them failing to get an award is necessarily going to hurt them for any future projects.

Blue Origin is the company that stood out the most in terms of getting an award. They have been hiding in the shadows for some time, where they seem to produce anti-vaporware. Essentially, they don't announce anything until after it is ready for flight, and only then if they are required by law to actually file for a flight permit. They stay very quiet in terms of commercial space development and seem to show up at seemingly odd times (compared to other spaceflight development companies). Because they are receiving money from the government, they have to be a bit more open now than they typically have been in the past.

Re:Who -didn't- get funding (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 years ago | (#35871242)

The PDF is a very interesting read. If nothing else it reinforces the issue that it's all in the details. Little details. Annoying little details. Everyone who thinks that doing something in space is "easy" from the viewpoint of technology, everybody who thinks that "they just look like Apollo - boring" should read TFA.

It's called Rocket Science for a reason.

Re:Who -didn't- get funding (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 3 years ago | (#35869116)

It's also quite interesting to note who -didn't- get funding in this round (but are of course contenders for future funding rounds):

ULA: This was the most surprising one, since basically all of the accepted non-SpaceX spacecraft proposals have ULA's Atlas V rocket as their baseline and would require upgrades to their emergency detection system.

I'm not surprised at all, it's a deep flaw in the capsule cabal's thinking and one I've pointed out for nearly a decade - extreme and myopic concentration on the 'sexy' parts (the crew) and a near complete lack of attention to the 'unsexy' parts (the booster and cargo delivery).

Re:Who -didn't- get funding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35876722)

Actually, OSC's lifter was ESA's Hermes. At this time, OSC is nothing more than a front for Russia and ESA. I would rather that OSC got cut off from any future NASA/DOD funding save for building sats.

The best (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35865310)

This is surely the way to make the safest spacecraft possible.

Re:The best (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35867788)

Well the shuttle was honking big and massive, and needed a fairly long runway for landing. So in a way, the much smaller replacement vehicles (appearing 1/3 the shuttle's size or less) with equivalent glider functionality are safer. With flaps and a drag chute, they look like they could land at civil aviation airports. (The unmanned X-37 is actually smaller than a lot of general aviation aircraft, and is close in size to a Cessna 172. Talk about a great change from the shuttle!) The downsizing greatly increases the options for where you can land during an emergency return trip. Thus you can take the easiest re-entry profile, instead of some convoluted path or an extra orbit because you can't get over a certain desired landing site. You could probably put a jet engine on them to be deployed during the last leg of the return trip and give them go-around capability, but whether or not that's desirable is another question. I wouldn't be too surprised if somebody even equips some re-entry vehicles with beefed up landing gear and a tail-hook to provide even more flexibility. Without all the extra bulk and inertia of the original shuttle, I don't see why they couldn't be made carrier landing capable.

Or you could go KISS with a capsule. They work fine too.

Summary of milestones (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | about 3 years ago | (#35865312)

(From a post I made over on the nasaspaceflight forums)

From the Space Act Agreements, here's a quick summary of the payment milestones each company has set for each sub-project going up to a year from now:

http://procurement.ksc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

Sierra Nevada:
system requirements review
canted airfoil fin selection
cockpit based flight simulator
vehicle avionics integration laboratory
system defniition review
flight control integration laboratory
ETA structure delivery (does this mean "Engineering Test Article"?)
separation system test
preliminary design review for Dream Chaser
optional milestones: materials testing captive carry and ETA landing gear drop tests, ETA captive carry flight test, wind tunnel testing, dream chaser handling qualities evaluation, main RCS test, two hybrid rocket motor test firing, thrust vector control test, ETA captive carry flight test readiness review, ETA free flight test

Blue Origin (only listing final milestones for each sub-project):
* Space Vehicle Design: space vehicle system requirements review
* Pusher escape Risk Reduction: pusher escape ground firing, pusher escape pad escape test (optional milestones: pusher escape max-Q sled test calibration run, pusher escape max-Q sled test egress run)
* RBS (reusable booster system) engine risk reduction: engine thrust chamber assembly test at Stennis (optional: engine pump cold gas drive test, engine pump hot gas drive test) [as an aside, apparently the RBF is a 100klbf restartable hydrolox engine)

launch abort engine fabrication & hot fire test demonstration
landing air bag drop demonstration #1
phase I wind tunnel tests
interim design review - 4
parachute drop tests demonstration
SM propellant tank development test
LV EDS/ASIF interface simulation test
preliminary design review
optional milestones 12-25 all redacted

launch abort system propulsion conceptual design review
design status review 1 (for Falcon 9/Dragon crew transportation system)
LAS propulsion components PDR
crew accommodation concept prototype and in situ trial (internally-funded by SpaceX, NASA astronauts invited to try crew accomodations and give feedback)
crew accommodation concept delta-prototype and in-situ trial 2
LAS propulsion component test articles complete
LAS propulsion component initial test cycle
concept baseline review
(SpaceX seems to be the only one without "optional" milestones)

Does this "prove" Obama's strategy... (2)

wisebabo (638845) | about 3 years ago | (#35865342)

... of FIRST reducing the cost of access to space through technology development (scrapping the Orion rocket) and commercialization BEFORE going for the Moon/Mars right? (Sorry for the run on sentence).

If the Falcon Heavy can get payloads to orbit for $1,000/lb. (one TENTH the cost of the shuttle!), I would think so.

Re:Does this "prove" Obama's strategy... (1)

amliebsch (724858) | about 3 years ago | (#35869338)

It won't be so much welfare if they stick to fixed-price rather than cost-plus contracting.

Re:Does this "prove" Obama's strategy... (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | about 3 years ago | (#35871722)

I don't think it proves anything yet. The fact that the course is being held despite Congress is encouraging, but nothing is certain until functioning systems have been fully demonstrated.

The other question is what happens when the White House changes hands. Hopefully if some of these options are near finished by then (if its 2012) then it will be hard to radically redirect things again.

citizen ----government---- corporate welfare (0)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | about 3 years ago | (#35865416)

Oh great, NASA's turned into another conduit for corporate welfare.

Re:citizen ----government---- corporate welfare (3)

FleaPlus (6935) | about 3 years ago | (#35865648)

> Oh great, NASA's turned into another conduit for corporate welfare.

Actually, NASA's been a "conduit for corporate welfare" for a few decades now, awarding cost-plus contracts to politically-connected companies based on what congressional district they're located in. If anything, this is a huge step away from that kind of behavior, using fixed-price milestone-based commercial contracts, awarded on the basis of technical merit rather than political connections.

Re:citizen ----government---- corporate welfare (1)

Fallen Andy (795676) | about 3 years ago | (#35866152)

Well - we could admit that this stuff is difficult and turn it into a multi country collaboration akin to what now happens with particle physics?

(and cover our rear ends, and encourage SpaceX and others to fight it out, perhaps crash and burn

At the best, it would look like the early days of aviation

(a bit of a mess, but interesting)


Re:citizen ----government---- corporate welfare (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#35885616)

Well - we could admit that this stuff is difficult and turn it into a multi country collaboration akin to what now happens with particle physics?

(and cover our rear ends, and encourage SpaceX and others to fight it out, perhaps crash and burn

Or we could just go with the second approach and get away from relatively unproductive multinational collaborations.

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why not seed 14 co.s? 40? 400? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35865668)

or just 1 would be better? all that seeding could lead to monotamination. why not disarm, & seed around earth for a while, so there'll still be stuff left to blow up with the seedy space weapons.

public+private=WINNING! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35867474)

I think we can actually get control of our skyrocketing health care costs.
I even foresee wiping the national debt in less than a decade. /bullshit

Is Commercial Space just Wishful Thinking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35870782)

Ok - so the US gov has a budget again, and is betting heavily on "Commercial Space" picking up the debris of NASA's epic failure to develop a new crew launcher. But does this hope have any basis in reality or is NewSpace just a bunch of scifi boys playing with toys? Neal Stephenson [nealstephenson.com] works at Blue Origin, Gary Hudson of Roton Rocket fame recently channeled Star Wars' Admiral Ackbar [parabolicarc.com], and SpaceX seems to have picked up a scifi scribe of their own in Ralph Ewig [smashwords.com]. Are these really the nation's best last hope, or are they a bunch of dreamers who can't separate the "science" from the "fiction"?

Re:Is Commercial Space just Wishful Thinking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35871314)

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If anything, this proves that the commercial space guys have a vision - NASA sure doesn't

Re:Is Commercial Space just Wishful Thinking? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 3 years ago | (#35871384)

Are these really the nation's best last hope, or are they a bunch of dreamers who can't separate the "science" from the "fiction"?

If only there was a way to answer questions like this.

Re:Is Commercial Space just Wishful Thinking? (1)

MaDeR (826021) | about 3 years ago | (#35899048)

Boeing is not exactly nu-space waobeee. SpaceX already delivered to space. Others are also hopeful (I am still sceptic about winged spacecrafts - dead weight...).
And anyway, why exactly liking or producing sf would be detrimental to their work? Aren't you just found easy and shitty excuse to dismiss them?
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