New NASA Report on Travel to Space Station – What is the Future?

  • ISS construction began in 1969.
  • 85 flights have been completed to ISS.
  • Boeing and SpaceX are expected to have crew flights by 2024.
  • Currently, Soyuz is the only space shuttle available.

On November 14, the NASA Inspector General Office of Audits published a report entitled NASA’s Management of Crew Transportation to the International Space Station. The audit data was collected from February 2019 to November 2019 as per the audit standards. One of the main goals of the audit is to compare the piloted programs by Boeing, Space X and Soyuz.

The technical risks were assessed and recommendations were made. Interviews were conducted with employees of HEOMD (Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate) and the CCP (Commercial Crew Program). The political climate was taken into account as well. The HEOMD provides NASA with leadership and management of NASA space operations related to human exploration in and beyond low-Earth orbit. HEOMD also oversees low-level requirements development, policy, and programmatic oversight. The International Space Station, currently orbiting the Earth with a crew of six, represents the NASA exploration activities in low-Earth orbit. The HEOMD is divided between Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers, which employs 360 in-house specialists.

In the past 20 years, there were 85 flights to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit. The ISS program is a joint project between five participating space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA. The ownership and use of the space station are established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. Thus far 239 astronauts were transported via NASA Space Shuttle or the Roskosmos Soyuz Space Shuttle.

 

Furthermore, ISS took over 10 years and over 30 missions to assemble. The construction started in 1969. However, it was a collaboration project of the five space agencies and 15 countries. The size of ISS is the size of the standard football field: a 460-ton, permanently crewed platform orbiting 250 miles above Earth. The ISS is owned by  the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Partner.

The first mission was a three person crew in November, 2000 staying 136 days at the ISS. The station provides an international laboratory for experiments within space that are impossible to do from Earth. A few of the unique experiments on ISS space include mice, night lites, channelling Captain Kirk and more.

Until recently, US space research onboard the ISS had been reserved mostly for government initiatives, but new opportunities for commercial and academic use of the ISS are now available, facilitated by the ISS National Lab.

Since 2010, the CCP program went through multiple stages of development and the amount spent is $8.5 billion.

Phase 1: CCDev1 (Commercial Crew Development) started in February 2010 with a budget of $50 million for research and development of new technologies. The companies involved include Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon, Sierra-Nevada and United Launch Alliance.

Blue Origin, LLC is an American aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company headquartered in Kent, Washington in 2010 and privately funded by Jeff Bezos (best known as the owner of Amazon marketplace).

The Boeing Company is an American multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, satellites, telecommunications equipment, and missiles worldwide. The company also provides leasing and product support services.

Paragon Space Development Corporation is an American company founded in 1993 and headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. It is a provider of environmental controls for extreme and hazardous environments.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is an American privately held electronic systems provider and systems integrator specializing in microsatellites, telemedicine, and commercial orbital transportation services. The company contracts with the United States Armed Forces, NASA and private spaceflight companies.

United Launch Alliance is a US launch service provider that manufactures and operates a number of rocket vehicles capable of orbiting spacecraft. It was formed as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security in December 2006

Phase 2: CCDev2 started in April 2011 with the budget of $316 million US dollars. The companies involved in this phase are Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Space X. It was expected to continue development of commercial flights with an additional three companies: Alliant Techsystems, Excalibur Almaz Inc. and again United Launch Alliance.

Alliant Techsystems Inc. was an American aerospace, defense, and sporting goods company with its headquarters in Arlington County, Virginia. The company operates in 22 states, Puerto Rico, and other countries. ATK’s revenue in the 2014 fiscal year was about $4.78 billion. In 2014 the company made a decision to split into two new companies.

Excalibur Almaz is a private spaceflight company which plans to provide a variety of deep space crewed exploration missions, micro-gravity science, and payload delivery. EA also aims to offer Low Earth Orbit cargo and crew delivery and return.

Phase 3: Budget of $1.168 billion. Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX were expected to continue research and development in the critical analysis, project related to the contracts of the space crew transport.

Phase 4: Product Certification Contract given to Boeing, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX by NASA in the December 2012.

Phase 5: Commercial transport of the crew (CCtCap) with a budget of $6.9 billion. Contracts given to Boeing and SpaceX.

As of July 2019, NASA purchased 70 seats to the ISS and back using the Soyuz space shuttle with a total cost of $3.9 billion. Soyuz space shuttle has been transporting crews to the ISS since 2000.

Originally the shuttle was designed to transport astronauts to the moon and it is capable of transporting three crew members. Soyuz is capable of staying within ISS up to 200 days. It is the only shuttle at this time able to transport the crews to ISS.

One shuttle is always connected to ISS in case of emergency evacuation, but usually two shuttles at a time are at ISS. Originally the cost for NASA was $55 million per seat both ways but since 2017 the cost has risen to close to $80 million per seat.

Currently, Boeing and SpaceX, under contract from NASA, are working on the first commercial demonstration flights with a crew. They are expected to provide 12 missions for 48 astronauts transported to ISS by the 2024.

Nevertheless, both Boeing and SpaceX continue to encounter technical difficulties, including significant safety and technical challenges with parachutes, propulsion, and launch abort systems that need to be resolved prior to receiving NASA authorization to transport crew to the ISS.

The complexity of these issues has already caused at least a two year delay in both contractors’ development, testing, and qualification schedules and may further delay certification of the launch vehicles by an additional year as per the report.

In conclusion, there are recommendations outlined in the report and with the current delays Soyuz will continue to be the only space shuttle to be used for the purposes of space exploration.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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