Friday, June 10, 2016

Ready When They're Ready

Pieces of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner arrive at Kennedy Space Center. Video source: NASA Kennedy YouTube channel.

The next International Space Station crew rotation is scheduled for July 7 from the Russian launch site at Baikonur, Khazkhstan.

Here at Kennedy Space Center, commercial crew vendors Boeing and SpaceX continue to prepare for their first missions in the next two years.

A Boeing executive said on May 11 that their CST-100 Starliner is behind schedule. Their first uncrewed test flight is planned for 2017, with the first crew flight in 2018. According to an Aviation Week article (subscription required), Boeing has problems with the capsule's mass and noise problems as it interacts with its United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster.

SpaceX maintains they're still on track for operational status by the end of 2017, although their schedules are notoriously optimistic.

As recently as March, NASA told media representatives that Boeing and SpaceX were both still on track for 2017. According to a May 25 Spaceflight Now article:

Boeing announced earlier this month that its first piloted CST-100 Starliner flight with two test astronauts on-board has slipped from October 2017 to February 2018. That will be preceded by an abort test using the capsule’s pusher escape engines at White Sands, New Mexico, in October 2017 and a trip to the space station by an unoccupied CST-100 in December 2017, Boeing officials said ...

Earlier this year, SpaceX quietly delayed its initial Crew Dragon mission without astronauts from late 2016 to May 2017. A NASA official confirmed the updated schedule in a March presentation to the agency’s advisory council.

The commercial crew program on paper goes back to President George W. Bush's administration. Part of his Vision for Space Exploration proposal, the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office opened in November 2005. NASA issued the first commercial cargo contracts in August 2006, but commercial crew went unfunded because it would compete with the government Constellation Ares I.

A 2009 review concluded that Constellation would not fly Ares I until at least 2017, and possibly 2019. Although prohibited by Congress, NASA budget documents from the Bush era assumed Constellation would be funded by ending ISS in 2016. The station would be disposed into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA was building a rocket to nowhere.

President Barack Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 NASA budget proposal cancelled Constellation to extend the International Space Station to 2020, accelerate commercial cargo and fund the commercial crew program. The goal was to have commercial crew operational by 2015.

After months of political rancor, Congress finally agreed, but for several fiscal years underfunded commercial crew. According to a November 2013 NASA Office of the Inspector General report:

The Program received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received. As a result, NASA has delayed the first crewed mission to the ISS from FY 2015 to at least FY 2017.

Subsequent funding cuts pushed the post-Shuttle “gap” into FY 2018.

If you're unhappy with that, you may wish to contact your members of Congress to determine how they voted when NASA's budget came up for a vote.

1 comment:

  1. Yes - Please write your US Senator - You will be presently suprised by their response. You must live in the proper district, and then write. Tell he or she that we need US Astronauts launching from US soil. It is a matter of honor and pride. Our grandchildren need to be inspired when they see US launches of US Astronauts.