Development of the Commercial Crew Program began in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which was rescoped from a technology development program for human spaceflight to a competitive development program that would produce the spacecraft to be used in the Commercial Crew Program. Starting in 2011, NASA procured concepts from private vendors for crew vehicles to carry US and international astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Operational contracts to fly astronauts were awarded in September 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing.
An uncrewed test flight was performed by each company in 2019. SpaceX's Crew Dragon Demo-1 flight of Dragon 2 arrived at the International Space Station in March 2019 and returned via splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Due to a Mission Elapsed Time anomaly, the Boeing Orbital Flight Test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft failed to reach the station in December 2019, but completed some test objectives and performed a safe airbag landing. Due to this, Boeing and NASA have agreed to refly the OFT mission in the fall of 2020. Pending completion of the demonstration flights, each company is contracted to supply six flights to ISS. The first group of astronauts was announced on 3 August 2018. Both companies were expected to launch astronauts from the US starting with SpaceX in May 2020 but on 6 April 2020 it was announced that Boeing would redo their Orbital Flight Test meaning that the Crew Flight Test would launch in 2021.
Key high-level requirements for the Commercial Crew vehicles include:
- Safely deliver and return four crew members and their equipment to the International Space Station (ISS)
- Provide assured crew return in the event of an emergency
- Serve as a 24-hour safe haven in the event of an emergency
- Capable of remaining docked to the station for 210 days
Development program overview
After the retirement of STS in 2011, NASA had no domestic vehicles capable of launching astronauts to space. The next major human spaceflight initiative will launch in 2022 as Artemis 2 on the Space Launch System. In the meantime, NASA continued to send astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft seats purchased from Russia. The price has varied over time, with the batch of seats from 2016 to 2017 costing $70.7 million per passenger per flight. The intent of CCDev is to develop safe and reliable commercial ISS crew launch capabilities to replace the Soyuz flights. CCDev followed Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), an ISS commercial cargo program. CCDev contracts were issued for fixed-price, pay-for-performance milestones.
Commercial Crew Development phase 1 (CCDev 1) consisted of $50 million awarded in 2010 to five US companies to develop human spaceflight concepts and technologies. NASA awarded development funds to five companies under CCDev 1:
- Blue Origin: $3.7M for a 'pusher' Launch Abort System (LAS) and composite pressure vessels.
- Boeing: $18M for development of the CST-100 Starliner
- Paragon Space Development Corporation: $1.4M for a plug-and-play environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) Air Revitalization System (ARS) Engineering Development Unit.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation: $20M for development of the Dream Chaser
- United Launch Alliance: $6.7M for an Emergency Detection System (EDS) for human-rating Atlas V
- Blue Origin: $22 million. Technologies in support of a biconic nose cone design orbital vehicle, including launch abort system liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engines.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation: $80 million. Dream Chaser
- SpaceX: $75 million. Dragon 2 integrated launch abort system
- Boeing: $92.3 million. Additional CST-100 Starliner development
Proposals selected without NASA funding:
- United Launch Alliance: extend development work on human-rating the Atlas V
- Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Astrium proposed development of Liberty. NASA will share expertise and technology.
- Excalibur Almaz Inc. was developing a crewed system with modernized Soviet-era hardware intended for tourism flights to orbit. An unfunded Space Act Agreement to establish a framework to further develop EAI's spacecraft concept for low Earth orbit crew transportation.
Proposals not selected:
- Orbital Sciences proposed the Prometheus lifting-body spaceplane vehicle
- Paragon Space Development Corporation proposed additional development of the Commercial Crew Transport-Air Revitalization System.
- t/Space proposed a reusable eight-person crew or cargo transfer spacecraft
- United Space Alliance proposed to commercially fly the two remaining Space Shuttle vehicles.
Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) was originally called CCDev 3. For this phase of the program, NASA wanted proposals to be complete, end-to-end concepts of operation, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations, and recovery. In September 2011, NASA released a draft request for proposals (RFP). The final RFP was released on February 7, 2012, with proposals due on March 23, 2012. The funded Space Act Agreements were awarded on August 3, 2012, and amended on August 15, 2013.
The selected proposals were announced 3 August 2012:
- Sierra Nevada Corporation: $212.5 million. Dream Chaser/Atlas V
- SpaceX: $440 million. Dragon 2/Falcon 9
- Boeing: $460 million. CST-100 Starliner/Atlas V
CPC phase 1
The first phase of the Certification Products Contract (CPC) involved the development of a certification plan with engineering standards, tests, and analyses. Winners of funding of phase 1 of the CPC, announced on December 10, 2012, were:
- Sierra Nevada Corporation: $10 million
- SpaceX: $9.6 million
- Boeing: $9.9 million
CCtCap - crew flights awarded
The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) is the second phase of the CPC and included the final development, testing and verifications to allow crewed demonstration flights to the ISS. NASA issued the draft CCtCap contract's Request For Proposals (RFP) on 19 July 2013 with a response date of 15 August 2013. On 16 September 2014, NASA announced that Boeing and SpaceX had received contracts to provide crewed launch services to the ISS. Boeing could receive up to US$4.2 billion, while SpaceX could receive up to US$2.6 billion. In November 2019 NASA published a first cost per seat estimate: US$55 million for SpaceX's Dragon and US$90 million for Boeing's Starliner. Boeing was also granted an additional $287.2 million above the fixed price contract. Seats on Soyuz had an average cost of US$80 million. However, adjusting for the additional cargo carried by Boeing's Starliner inside its crew capsule, the adjusted cost per seat figure is approximately $70 million, which is still higher than SpaceX's Crew Dragon even if the Dragon does not carry the equivalent of a fifth passenger in cargo. Both the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon will fly an uncrewed flight, then a crewed certification flight, then up to six operational flights to the ISS.
The first flight of the Commercial Crew Program was planned to occur in 2015, but insufficient funding caused delays. As the spacecraft entered the testing and production phase, technical issues have also caused delays, especially the parachute system, propulsion, and the launch abort system of both capsules.
Starliner valve issue
Crew Dragon explosion
On 20 April 2019, an issue arose during a static fire test of Crew Dragon. The accident destroyed the capsule which was planned to be used for the In-Flight Abort Test (IFAT). SpaceX confirmed that the capsule exploded. NASA has stated that the explosion will delay the planned in-flight abort and crewed orbital tests.
Crew Dragon crewed flight
On May 30, 2020 two astronauts were launched to the ISS with a Crew Dragon as part of Crew Dragon Demo-2. The end and safe landing of Demo-2 on August 2, 2020 marked the first splashdown in 45 years for NASA astronauts since the first Apollo–Soyuz U.S./U.S.S.R international space mission in July 1975, as well as the first splashdown of a crew spacecraft in the Gulf of Mexico.
The first flight of the Commercial Crew Program was planned to occur in 2015, but insufficient funding caused delays. For the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget, US$500 million was requested for the CCDev program, but Congress granted only $270 million. For the FY 2012 budget, $850 million was requested and $406 million approved. For the FY 2013 budget, 830 million was requested and $488 million approved. For the FY 2014 budget, $821 million was requested and $696 million approved. In FY 2015, $848 million was requested and $805 million, or 95%, was approved. On November 14, 2019, NASA's inspector general published an auditing report listing per-seat prices of $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon Crew. With these, Boeing's price is higher than what NASA has paid the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, for Soyuz spacecraft seats to fly US and partner-nation astronauts to the space station. The report also states that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing's fixed prices to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019 and to ensure the contractor continued as a second commercial crew provider, without offering similar opportunities to SpaceX. On November 18, 2019, Boeing's Jim Chilton replied that the inspector general's report failed to list Starliner’s positive features and objected to the per seat pricing as they believe the cost is lower than $90 million given its cargo capacity. Boeing's reasoning for the extra funding was due to a later start to its development than SpaceX with comparable deadlines. Boeing also stated it committed to the program. The funding of all commercial crew contractors for each phase of the CCP program is as follows—CCtCap values are maxima and include post-development operational flights.[quantify]
|Manufacturers of spacecraft|
|Sierra Nevada Corporation||20.0||105.6||227.5||10.0||–||–||362.1|
|Manufacturers of launch vehicles and equipment|
|United Launch Alliance||6.7||-||–||–||–||–||6.7|
|Paragon Space Development Corporation||1.4||–||–||–||–||–||1.4|
|Pad abort test, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida||None||6 May 2015||Success|
|Uncrewed test flight. DM-1 launched on 2 March 2019 and docked to ISS PMA-2/IDA-2 docking port a little under 24 hours after launch. The Dragon spent five days docked to ISS before undocking and landing on 8 March 2019.||None||2 March 2019||Success|
|Uncrewed Pad Abort Test||None||4 November 2019||Success|
|Uncrewed test flight. Was the first flight of an Atlas V with a dual engine Centaur upper stage. Was originally planned to spend eight days docked to ISS before landing. However, Starliner was unable to rendezvous with the station due to the MET anomaly forcing it to enter a lower-than-expected orbit. The spacecraft returned on 22 December 2019 after spending two days in orbit. OFT-2 was proposed to meet all objectives.||None||20 December 2019||Partial failure due to MET anomaly|
|A Falcon 9 booster launched a Dragon 2 capsule from LC-39A to perform an in-flight abort shortly after Max q in order to test Dragon 2's launch abort system. Abort occurred at 84 seconds after launch and Dragon 2 successfully separated from the Falcon 9 and flew away using its SuperDraco thrusters. The Falcon 9 booster disintegrated as a result of aerodynamic forces. Dragon 2 splashed down nine minutes after launch after successfully deploying its four parachutes.||None||19 January 2020||Success|
|Crewed test flight. Dragon 2 launched with two crew members and dock to the ISS about 18 hours later. Dragon and its crew spent up to 62 days on board the ISS.|| Doug Hurley
|30 May 2020||Success|
|Uncrewed test flight. Suggested by Boeing and approved by NASA on April 6, 2020 due to the partial failure of software on the previous Starliner test flight, in particular its failure to reach or dock with the ISS.||None||NET December 2020||Planned|
|CST-100 Starliner||Extended crewed test flight.|| Michael Fincke
Nicole Aunapu Mann
|NET June 2021||Planned|
- Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
- Commercial Resupply Services
- NASA Docking System
- Private spaceflight
- Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee
- Space Shuttle successors
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- Boeing CCtCap Contract (redacted)
- SpaceX CCtCap Contract (redacted)