[Satellite News 10-26-11] SpaceX CEO Elon Musk testified before the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the progress of its $75 million NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program contract awarded in April, the commercial launch company announced Oct. 26.
In written testimony, Musk updated the committee on the work that SpaceX has done to prepare for its next mission under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which is scheduled to occur in the next few months.
“The Dragon spacecraft design has been upgraded to meet all requirements for ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS), including the proximity operations sensors to guide the vehicle safely near the ISS. This mission will be an extended mission to the ISS, lasting more than three weeks,” Musk wrote in the testimony. “Consequently, two solar array wings have been added to the Dragon trunk to enable positive power generation throughout the flight. Additionally, a redundant active thermal control system loop has been installed in the Dragon trunk to reject excess heat into space; protect the spacecraft from excessively hot or cold temperatures; and provide an environment inside the spacecraft that is acceptable for cargo and for the ISS crew when berthed to station.”
SpaceX recently completed a series of COTS milestones tests on the fully integrated Dragon spacecraft, including a 12-day thermal vacuum test during which the entire avionics system was exercised while flowing 24/7 telemetry. Musk said that no notable issues were uncovered and the company’s thermal data closely matched model predictions.
“As a result of the commonality between the cargo and crew versions of Dragon, many of the critical components of the Dragon crew transportation system are already operational and flight-proven. Other systems for crew accommodation require some development, but the only major development is for the launch abort system. This commonality enables SpaceX to plan for crew demonstration flights in 2014, with a rapid transition to operational capability,” said Musk.
SpaceX’s plan during the next few years is to collect data and experience on its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon system from upcoming COTS and future CRS missions. The Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle are currently scheduled to fly together at least eight more times before a crew demonstration in 2014. The Falcon 9 itself is scheduled to launch a total of 14 missions prior to the first Dragon crew mission.
Musk also his thoughts on NASA’s recently issued draft request for proposal (DRFP) for the Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract (CCIDC). “SpaceX appreciates the fact that the contract will be firm fixed-price and milestone-based; includes cost sharing with fixed government investment; and waives cost and pricing data requirements inherent in certain Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) based contract formulations. SpaceX has offered NASA several suggestions to improve the DRFP and the subsequent contract implementation,” said Musk. “The requirements in this DRFP have the potential to mitigate the proven benefits of this approach by exponentially increasing NASA’s involvement in design, development and testing … SpaceX has also suggested that insight personnel be teammates.”
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle earlier this year, NASA is currently purchasing human spaceflight services from Russia’s commercial market for $56 million per seat, as Russia is currently NASA’s only available supplier. Musk said he believes the United States is paying too high of a price for those services due to the lack of competition and supply.
“There is ample evidence of a demand for spaceflight beyond NASA, though it has yet to emerge as a substantial operational secondary market,” he said. “In the past decade, seven individuals bought eight very expensive tickets to fly to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz. That may not seem like much, but even as prices dramatically increased since Dennis Tito first flew back in 2001, every seat available for sale has been sold. No tickets have been sold for the past two years because Russia is providing 100 percent of their Soyuz capacity to serve the ISS partnerships.”