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Jan 26 2015

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Launch America: Commercial Crew’s Path Forward

NASA, Boeing and SpaceX held a video conference on the status of CCtCAP today. Official press release on panel broadcast is here.

The panelists are:

  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
  • Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa
  • Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders
  • Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Space Exploration John Elbon
  • President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell
  • NASA astronaut Mike Fincke

I watched it live and here are the notes and highlights I observed:

  • Given from the Johnson Space Center
  • Dr. Ellen Ochoa: She stood beside the actual International Docking Adapter, which looks smaller than I imagined. It has been completed and will be flown to the ISS this year.
  • Charles Bolden: Talks about Orion and NASA’s Mission to Mars…interesting, since CCtCAP is not really related to either. In fact, SpaceX will likely end up racing NASA on a manned Mars mission. Talks about Astronaut Kelly’s year-old mission on the ISS, which *does* have relevance to a manned mission to Mars.
  • Cathy Lueders: She says that CST-100 and Dragon 2 will enable a doubling of the scientific work that can be done on the ISS (she didn’t really explain how). There are 5 NASA required certification milestones for Boeing and SpaceX, both of which have completed the first one. She mentions “Capture the Flag” — the race to recover the US flag left on the ISS by the last Space Shuttle mission.
  • John Elbon: Boeing turns 100 years old this year. That’s kinda cool. Boeing has completed 2 certification milestones (reported here at NewSpaceRaces a couple of weeks ago). They’ve started construction on the CCtCAP tower for the Atlas V launch tower. Begin assembling the CST-100 hardware later this year. Critical Design Review is in March.
  • Gwynne Shotwell: There’s a number of upgrades required to convert a Dragon to a Dragon 2 (Integrated Abort System). Dragon 2 Will be landing on water at first, but eventually will land using retro rockets. Pataboard vehicle is almost complete (within the next month or so at Cape Canaveral). 2016 will be the unmanned test flight.
  • Mike Fincke: Emphasizes that safety of the crew is paramount.

Questions and Answers:

  • At this time, it looks like Boeing will fly the first unmanned mission due to long-lead times for the two companies.
  • How do companies make their own astronauts? John Elbon said that we’re not exactly sure how that will work out, like it was not clear exactly how different companies made their own pilots in early aviation. Charles Bolden says this turn-over of LEO to Commercial Space allows NASA to focus on deep space missions. “LEO infrastructure belongs to Industry, not the Government.” Pause while I give Bolden a huge high five!! Preach it, bruthah!! NASA is looking to turn over all LEO activities to commercial space by 2024.
  • NASA is open to commercial science taking over ISS eventually.
  • Dragon 2 can carry 5 crew and still make ISS cargo requirements. Cost of launch shouldn’t be much different than Dragon cargo flights.
  • Johnson Space Center will have a CCtCAP mission simulator to train crew. Gwynn Shotwell says SpaceX has a goal to make Dragon 2 as easy to operate as possible.
  • SpaceX is still working through the manning of the first manned test flight. Trying to find the right balance of NASA and SpaceX personnel.
  • What’s the Russian price per seat compared to Boeing’s or SpaceX’s? No definite answer given, but Cathy Lueders said Commercial space has proven to be “cost effective”.
  • Charles Bolden is very optimistic about NASA’s 2016 budget.
  • CST-100 is designed to be reused/refurbished 10 times.
  • They still consider Sierra Nevada a valuable partner in Commercial Crew and continue to work with Dream Chaser.
  • SpaceX likely will not use a refurbished booster for its first flight of Dragon 2.
  • NASA will certainly allow Russian cosmonauts onboard CST-100 or Dragon 2 to reach the ISS.

Boy — they had a lot of technical issues with feedback during the questions. It was painful listening at my desk; I imagine it was even worse for the people on the stage.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/01/26/launch-america-commercial-crews-path-forward/

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