New Test Plan Paves Way for Combined SpaceX COTS Demo

WASHINGTON — NASA will determine within the coming weeks whether or not or to not mix two scheduled flight demonstrations of the business rocket and house capsule developed by Area Exploration Applied sciences (SpaceX) to ferry cargo to the worldwide house station.

Final yr the Hawthorne, Calif.-based startup proposed combining the second and third of three deliberate Industrial Orbital Transportation Companies (COTS) demonstration flights for NASA earlier than starting routine resupply runs to the station beneath a separate $1.6 billion fixed-price contract with the house company. Though NASA has but to formally sign-off on the corporate’s proposal, Alan Lindenmoyer, head of NASA’s Industrial Crew and Cargo Program Workplace on the Johnson Area Middle in Houston and COTS program supervisor, mentioned the company is boosting its funding in SpaceX by some $128 million this yr to assist pay for beforehand unplanned floor assessments that will facilitate the mixed demonstration.

“Within the subsequent month or two we’ll make the choice whether or not or not we’re going to proceed with the precise mixed [demo flight] planning,” Lindenmoyer mentioned in a March 28 interview, including that the brand new check milestones will function stipulations for conducting what would grow to be the second and ultimate check flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. “These are issues we might need to do anyway, however the truth that you’re getting doubtlessly one much less check flight, nicely, yeah, you need to make certain they’re accomplished.”

SpaceX is greater than two years behind in finishing its COTS demonstration flights, however efficiently flew the primary one Dec. 8; Dragon launched atop the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Power Station, Fla., and accomplished two full orbits earlier than splashing down close to its meant goal within the Pacific Ocean. However even earlier than that mission SpaceX founder and Chief Govt Elon Musk proposed combining the second and third demonstrations beneath the corporate’s $278 million COTS settlement.

As at the moment deliberate, SpaceX’s second COTS demo could be a five-day mission throughout which Dragon would method to inside 10 kilometers of the house station and use its radio cross-link to permit the station’s crew to obtain telemetry from the capsule and ship instructions. Within the third and ultimate COTS demo, Dragon is meant to berth to the station for the primary time.

Lindenmoyer mentioned NASA remains to be understanding how combining the mission would have an effect on NASA’s COTS funds to SpaceX. Underneath the present scheme, SpaceX is to obtain a money payout of $10 million upon completion of every demonstration.

“My feeling is that if they met the target of each missions and every part went very well they need to be capable of receives a commission for these aims,” Lindenmoyer mentioned. “Nevertheless it’s just a bit too early to say.”

Regardless, he mentioned, SpaceX might want to conduct a full-up thermal vacuum check and electromagnetic interference check of Dragon along with finishing a closed-loop demonstration of the capsule’s proximity operations sensors earlier than the aims of the 2 COTS demo missions might be merged.

As well as, the corporate should improve its manufacturing operation in Hawthorne, add engine check stands at its facility in McGregor, Texas, and make enhancements to its launch pad on the Cape, Lindenmoyer mentioned.

SpaceX and fellow COTS supplier Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., have earned a mixed $80 million in milestone funds because the fiscal yr started Oct. 1, cash that comes along with the payouts negotiated of their authentic COTS agreements. Though each companies are working behind in assembly milestone aims, they’ve obtained the majority of the funding anticipated beneath their authentic COTS contracts, which whole $448 million mixed.

Doug Cooke, NASA affiliate administrator for exploration methods, mentioned the extra funds for each companies are meant to maintain them on monitor to start cargo resupply missions to the house station in early 2012. NASA can be closely reliant on these firms for station cargo supply as soon as the house shuttle is retired later this yr.

“By the conclusion of the COTS effort, NASA anticipates it would have invested $800 million within the COTS program,” Cooke mentioned in ready testimony earlier than the Home Science, Area and Know-how Committee March 30.

The added COTS milestones and corresponding money funds have been proposed as a part of the 2011 finances blueprint U.S. President Barack Obama despatched lawmakers final yr. Though Congress has but to approve that plan, leaving NASA and different companies working beneath a collection of stopgap appropriations that restrict spending to final yr’s ranges, Cooke mentioned the request for additional COTS cash is supported in a three-year authorization invoice enacted in October, regardless of considerations amongst some lawmakers that the roughly 62 % improve to the unique $500 million COTS finances was extreme.

Presently SpaceX’s remaining COTS demonstration flights are scheduled for July 2011 and January 2012, however Cooke mentioned if NASA approves the corporate’s proposal, “the mixed mission could possibly be flown as early as November 2011.”

Lindenmoyer mentioned SpaceX is growing a plan, value a $5 million money payout, for finishing the thermal vacuum check of Dragon and is negotiating with an aerospace contractor in Southern California to lease amenities for the check. He mentioned the bottom check is essential on condition that Dragon “can be on orbit longer if we execute this mixed mission.”

Whereas Dragon spent hours in orbit on its maiden flight, “now we’re speaking about weeks on orbit,” Lindenmoyer mentioned. Through the December flight, he mentioned, the capsule “didn’t obtain the thermal steadiness that it’ll see” throughout the mixed COTS demo.

“You’re going to see longer cold-soaks, you’re going to see longer hotter intervals and also you’re simply going to see common publicity to the vacuum of house and these thermal cycles,” he mentioned. “So that is what you need to check; you need to ensure you’re good to go for that longer mission.”

In the meantime, SpaceX is assessing whether or not or to not conduct the closed-loop check of Dragon’s proximity and rendezvous sensor system at NASA’s Marshall Area Flight Middle in Huntsville, Ala., or on the firm’s Hawthorne amenities.

“They need to have the ability to do that in-house,” Lindenmoyer mentioned. “The query is whether or not or not they will do it shortly sufficient to take that on in-house, however we’re nonetheless simply ready to see what their evaluation can be and we’ll determine the proper approach to go.”

Whatever the location, Lindenmoyer mentioned the precise check is just not deliberate till July on the earliest.

“One of many longest poles in attending to the flight is ending up all of the rendezvous and proximity ops software program and testing that with the {hardware},” he mentioned.

SpaceX will get one other $10 million COTS payout for growing a plan for enhancements to its manufacturing, check and launch amenities.

“It’s to enhance the throughput on the amenities, scale back schedule threat and ensure they’re set as much as full these demos as quick as doable,” Lindenmoyer mentioned. “As an investor we’re saying, ‘Hey, we expect it’s essential to get this accomplished shortly’ and that’s a part of our funding — to speed up a few of that work.”

Orbital Sciences, which is growing the Taurus 2 rocket and Cygnus spacecraft beneath its $170 million authentic COTS settlement, additionally garnered an additional $40 million in new milestone funds since Oct. 1. NASA says the brand new cash will assist Orbital put together for a further check flight of the Taurus 2, which Lindenmoyer mentioned would loft a dummy Cygnus capsule in September. Underneath Orbital’s authentic COTS settlement, the corporate is slated to conduct only a single check flight of Taurus 2 that will ship a cargo-laden Cygnus capsule to the house station. Nonetheless, that mission has been bumped to the top of the yr to make room for the extra flight demo.

“They’ve began ordering all the extra parts for the second flight and preparing for the primary flight, too,” Lindenmoyer mentioned. “They needed to put all these components on order to ensure they will meet their obligations for the demo flight. They needed to do all of the work and the evaluation for the design of the simulator. That’s the profit [of the added test flight] — not risking a flight spacecraft.”

Lindenmoyer mentioned Orbital expects to obtain new milestone payouts throughout the subsequent six months for check plans and supply of the Taurus 2 first stage and higher stage, supply of the Cygnus mass simulator for the added demo flight, and for the inaugural flight itself.

In his testimony Cooke mentioned NASA sees no cause to doubt both firm’s means to achieve fulfilling the phrases of its COTS agreements.

“Whereas every has skilled milestone delays, this isn’t surprising, since each companions have aggressive, success-oriented schedules, and are dealing with challenges typical of an area flight growth program,” he mentioned in his ready testimony. “These delays haven’t required any extra NASA funding of particular milestones, because the companions are paid solely fastened quantities for attaining milestones. Further growth prices have been borne by the businesses and/or different buyers.”

Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.