CCDev2 – Boeing

Boeing CST-100
Image Credit: Boeing

NASA announced the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

Boeing was the big winner in CCDev-2, getting $92.3 million, on top of the $18 million it won last year.

The initial $18 million allowed Boeing to complete several risk reduction demonstrations and a System Definition Review (SDR) in October, 2010. The CST-100’s system characteristics and configuration were base-lined. Boeing designed, built and tested a pressurized structure of the crew module. It also developed an avionics systems integration facility to support rapid prototyping and full-scale development.

Boeing notes that the CST-100 spacecraft relies on proven materials and subsystem technologies that are safe and affordable.

Plans include ferrying astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as crew and passengers to the Space Station being proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. The CST-100 is designed to carry up to seven passengers and is designed to be launched by a number of different expendable launch vehicles. These include United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5, Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9, and the European Ariane 5.

NASA’s new 14-month CCDev-2 Space Act Agreement will enable Boeing to further mature its system to a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), a critical step that ensures the system design meets all requirements.

National Space Society Announces Space Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur to be Awarded to SpaceX

In recognition of SpaceX’s groundbreaking year in 2010, with the successful launch of two Falcon 9 rockets, and the safe return of its Dragon capsule, the National Space Society (NSS) is today announcing that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will be the recipient of the NSS’s 2011 Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur. This award will be presented at the NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC), which will be held from May 18-May 22, 2011 in Huntsville, Alabama. Adam Harris, SpaceX’s Vice President for Government Affairs, will accept the award on behalf of SpaceX.

NSS Executive Director, Gary Barnhard states, “There are certain milestones and breakthroughs that accompany any successful venture, including those in the space industry. SpaceX has clearly demonstrated the engineering skill and tenacity to be a serious contender in the evolving commercial cargo and crew launch vehicle market.”

SpaceX recently announced its proposal to build a new Falcon Heavy lift launch vehicle, with a projected launch date sometime in late 2013 or in 2014. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that SpaceX is working towards cost reduction in manufacturing while making the rockets lighter and stronger with improved engine thrust and reliability. Even larger vehicles, with greater lifting capabilities are envisioned by SpaceX and others to meet the requirements of NASA’s Heavy Lift program. Says Rick Zucker, NSS Executive Vice President, “Expanding our launch capabilities to include heavy lift options, such as the one which has now been proposed by SpaceX, could make a significant contribution to space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.”

Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee, notes that, “The high cost of launch has always hampered the exploration and development of space. With its Falcon Heavy vehicle, SpaceX seeks to achieve a major reduction in launch costs. Such a reduction could enable entirely new categories of space industry, such as commercial space stations and privately funded activities on the Moon in cooperation with a government funded lunar program.”

Information about the Falcon Heavy is at
Information on the ISDC is at:

SpaceX Announces Launch Date for the World's Most Powerful Rocket

Falcon Heavy will lift more than twice as much as any other launch vehicle

See video of full press conference.

WASHINGTON – Today, Elon Musk, CEO and chief rocket designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for the Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest rocket.

“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” Musk told a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with liftoff to follow soon thereafter.  First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.”

Musk added that with the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons or 117,000 pounds to orbit, Falcon Heavy will have more than twice the performance of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy, the next most powerful vehicle, which is  operated by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

Just for perspective, 53 metric tons is more than the maximum take-off weight of a fully-loaded Boeing 737-200 with 136 passengers. In other words, Falcon Heavy can deliver the equivalent of an entire airline flight full of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

Falcon Heavy’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores, which are used as the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  It will be powered by SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.  Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  This is the equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.

Above all, Falcon Heavy has been designed for extreme reliability.  Unique safety features of the Falcon 9 are preserved, such as the ability to complete its mission even if multiple engines fail. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell that contains a worst case situation like fire or a chamber rupture, preventing it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.

Anticipating potential astronaut transport needs, Falcon Heavy is also designed to meet NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles.  For example, this means designing to higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.

Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, thus leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. The net effect is that Falcon Heavy achieves performance comparable to a three stage rocket, even though only the upper stage is airlit, further improving both payload performance and reliability.  Crossfeed is not required for missions below 100,000 lbs, and can be turned off if desired.

Despite being designed to higher structural margins than other rockets, the side booster stages will have a mass ratio (full of propellant vs empty) above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.

Falcon Heavy, with more than twice the payload, but less than one third the cost of a Delta IV Heavy, will provide much needed relief to government and commercial budgets. In fact, Falcon Heavy at approximately $1,000 per pound to orbit, sets a new world record in affordable spaceflight.

This year, even as the Department of Defense budget was cut, the EELV launch program, which includes the Delta IV, still saw a thirty percent increase.

The 2012 budget for four Air Force launches is $1.74B, which is an average of $435M per launch. Falcon 9 is offered on the commercial market for $50-60M and Falcon Heavy is offered for $80-$125M. Unlike our competitors, this price includes all non-recurring development costs and on-orbit delivery of an agreed upon mission. For government missions, NASA has added mission assurance and additional services to the Falcon 9 for less than $20M.

Note that Falcon Heavy should not be confused with the super heavy lift rocket program being debated by the US Congress.  That vehicle is intended to carry approximately 150 tons to orbit.  SpaceX agrees with the need to develop a vehicle of that class as the best way to conduct a large number of human missions to Mars.  Musk also referred to the possible  future development of a Falcon “SuperHeavy” under consideration at SpaceX.

See video animation of the Falcon Heavy.

See video of full press conference.

Astrobotic Technology Signs SpaceX Contract for Lunar XPrize Mission

Falcon 9 / Lunar Mission
Image Credit:
Astrobotic Technology

Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University, announced the signing of a contract with SpaceX to launch its Lunar XPrize mission using a Falcon 9 rocket.

Astrobotic intends to launch as early as December 2013. The mission includes a rover designed to operate for three months, and commercial payloads on the lander priced at $700,000 per pound, plus a fee of $250,000-per-payload to cover the cost of integration, communications, power, thermal control and pointing services.

Currently, Astrobotic Technology has a contract with NASA to design a lunar mining robot that can extract frozen volatiles (water, methane) at polar locations. These can be used to create propellants for spacecraft returning to Earth.

Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) – The 800 Pound Gorilla

The most recent issue of Science News (18 December 2010) has the following notes from 17 December 1960:

HEAVY SHIELD UNNECESSARY — Heavy shielding as protection for an astronaut against space radiations may not be necessary, at least for trips of less than 50 hours and at distances not greater than 618 miles from earth…. [B]iological specimens were encased in different types of metal to test their effectiveness as shielding materials. Some specimens were shielded only by the thin aluminum covering of the specimen capsule and the comparatively thin shell of the recovery capsule. Radiation dosimeters showed that aluminum provided better shielding properties than lead and that any heavy metal such as gold or lead becomes a hazard during a solar flare as high energy protons interact with these heavy metals to create damaging X-rays.

However, if you want to travel to the Moon or journey anywhere within the Solar System, Galactic Cosmic Radiation will require that the human crew is protected. Let’s take a look at the problem and the research required to test and implement solutions.


The GCR problem arises from interstellar atomic nuclei traveling near the speed of light striking the structure of a spacecraft. The resulting shower of secondary particles cause radiation damage. The Earth is protected by the Van Allen belts and a deep atmosphere. Brief journeys such as an Apollo mission does not expose the astronaut to dangerous dosages. However, astronauts on such a journey are at risk from Solar flares (Solar Particle Events – SPE). SPEs can be mitigated with layers of hydrogen rich materials such as polyethylene or water. GCRs, however, require spaceships on long journeys of more than 100 days, or habitats on the Lunar or Martian surface, to be surrounded by tens of meters of water for passive protection, or magnetic shields for active protection. Either solution is extremely heavy and makes space flight prohibitive in terms of propellant requirements.

The following sections discuss each aspect and provide references for further reading about the problem

The Source of GCR

Galactic Cosmic Rays come from outside our Solar System, but from within our galaxy, the Milky Way. They are comprised of atomic nuclei that have been stripped of their electrons. These nuclei can be any element. Common elements are carbon, oxygen, magnesium, silicon, and iron with similar abundances as the Solar System. Lithium, Berylium and Boron are overabundant relative to the Solar System ratios.

The Shielding Problem

Early on, it was suggested that cosmic rays could penetrate the Apollo spacecraft. From “Biomedical Results of Apollo” section IV, chapter 2, Apollo Light Flash Investigations we have the following account:

Crewmembers of the Apollo 11 mission were the first astronauts to describe an unusual visual phenomenon associated with space flight. During transearth coast, both the Commander and the Lunar Module Pilot reported seeing faint spots or flashes of light when the cabin was dark and they had become dark-adapted. It is believed that these light flashes result from high energy, heavy cosmic rays penetrating the Command Module structure and the crew members’ eyes. These particles are thought to be capable of producing, visual sensations through interaction with the retina, either by direct deposition of ionization energy in the retina or through creation of visible light via the Cerenkov effect.

When Galactic Cosmic Rays collide with another atom, such as those contained in the Aluminum, Stainless Steel or Titanium structures of a spacecraft, they can create a shower of secondary particles, These secondary particles cause radiation damage in living organisms (humans).

The problem is creating sufficiently powerful barriers to these extremely energetic nuclei.

Researching Solutions

  • Passive Shielding – At least for solar flares (SPE), some solutions are easier than the GCR problem.
  • Active Shielding
  • Fast Passage to avoid exposure (VASIMR propelled craft). A proposal for vapor core reactors integrated with VASIMR engines.
  • A proposal for studying radiation and other factors associated with long term human occupation of space.
  • NASA’s Space Radiation Program in association with the Brookhaven National Laboratories.
  • In 2008, the National Academies of Science published Managing Space Radiation Risk in the New Era of Space Exploration, which included chapter 6: Findings and Recommendations
  • From the Summary in Radiation Shielding Simulation For Interplanetary Manned Missions
      Inflatable Habitat + shielding

    • Hadronic interactions are significant, systematics is under control
    • The shielding capabilities of an inflatable habitat are comparable to a conventional rigid structure – Water / polyethylene are equivalent
    • Shielding thickness optimisation involves complex physics effects
    • An additional shielding layer, enclosing a special shelter zone, is effective against SPE
      Moon Habitat

    • Regolith shielding limits GCR and SPE exposure effectively
    • Its shielding capabilities against GCR can be better than conventional Al structures as in the ISS

See also the recent article in New Scientist about radiation hazards. A tip of the hat to ParabolicArc.

More on the Falcon 9/Dragon Test Flight

* The Falcon 9 rocket performed nearly flawlessly. The roll attitude was solid through the entire flight. The first stage sep was without impingement.

* The Dragon capsule entered orbit 301×288 on a targeted 300km circular.

* The capsule thrusters were tested on maneuvers similar to what is required for ISS docking.

* 4 Cubesats were successfully released into orbit.

* After separation from Dragon, the Falcon 2nd stage was fired again and placed in an orbit with an 11,000km apogee.

* The capsule re-entry burns were spot on.

* All three parachutes deployed perfectly.

* The capsule came down so close to the recovery ship that they have a good photo of it under the parachutes.

* It was being recovered within 35 minutes of the opening of the drogue chute.

* The heat shield barely got warm. We have now been told that this craft has a heat shield that can handle a free return from the Luna or Mars, i.e. it can be used as an interplanetary vehicle.

* Plans are for the next generation to do powered landings on a helipad sized landing pad.

* The volume and capabilities of Dragon meet or exceed those of the not yet ready for test Orion capsule.

* Today’s mission was so stunningly successful that SpaceX wants to move directly to an ISS flight on the next test. NASA is thinking about it

Historic Day for Commercial Space Flight

Today, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to re-enter a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit.

SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 AM EST from the Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral.

The Dragon spacecraft orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, and landed in the Pacific Ocean shortly after 2:00 PM EST.

This marks the first time a commercial company has successfully recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only six nations or government agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

It is also the first flight under NASA’s COTS program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal.

View the press kit:

Spaceport America Runway Dedication

White Knight Two flyover of Spaceport America Terminal carrying SpaceShipTwo
Image Credit: Barbara David

The two mile runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico was dedicated Friday, 22 October 2010. One of the highlights of the celebration was the flyover and landing of Virgin Galactic‘s White Knight Two carrying the rocket plane Space Ship Two, named Enterprise by Virgin Galactic.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, for whom the runway (spaceway) was officially named during the ceremony, commented that:

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the event. Two of the future passengers in attendance were Sonja Rohde from Germany and Perveen Crawford of Hong Kong. Both have already paid the full $200,000 price for their flight into space. “It’s like Christmas, you want to go, you can’t wait. It was always a childhood dream to go to space,” Rohde said. Crawford noted that “It’s a bargain compared to the Russians,” referring to the roughly $35 million past space tourists have paid to ride aboard the Soyuz to the International Space Station.

Approach to Spaceport America
White Knight Two carrying Space Ship Two on Approach to Spaceport America
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic