Russian Soyuz rocket rollout

“This deal is looking worse and worse all time.” Those words were famously spoken by Lando Calrissian in Star Wars Episode V (The Empire Strikes Back), but they could also be applied to NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

NASA sold the Commercial Crew program to Congress with the promise that the expenditure would end US dependence on the Russian Soyuz capsule and launcher. But according to NASA’s deputy space-station program manager Dan Hartman, that won’t happen. This week, Hartman told the NASA Advisory Council that some US astronauts will continue to ride on Soyuz vehicles as long as ISS is operational.

Soyuz serves as both transportation system and “lifeboat” for ISS astronauts, and NASA expects any new crew vehicle will do the same. NASA wants some astronauts to continue to ride on Soyuz and some Russian cosmonauts to ride on US vehicles, so it can continue to operate the station with a mixed crew even if one vehicle has to depart due to an emergency. “It doesn’t make much sense for three Russians to leave and expect the four Americans onboard to operate the Russian segment and vice versa,” Hartman said.

This revelation represents just the latest in a long string of broken promises from the Commercial Crew program.

The “commercial” aspects of the program become smaller and smaller all the time, as NASA imposes Federal Acquisition Regulations, human-rating standards, and other new requirements. In January of 2014, SpaceX program manager and former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman told a Houston audience that there was no longer “any significant difference” between the final phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew program and traditional government contracting.

To add injury to insult, NASA plans to “down-select” (fire) at least one of the three Commercial Crew contractors later this year. Two other companies were “down-selected” in 2012. At one time, it was expected that as many as five companies would be allowed to compete for NASA’s crew-transportation business. Now, NASA expects to narrow the field to two, or perhaps only one, depending on how much money it receives from Congress.

At one time, Commercial Crew supporters expected the new vehicles would be flown by commercial space pilots and carry private spaceflight participants as well as NASA astronauts. But faced with NASA requirements, contractors elected to go to a “self-drive rental-car model” rather than a “taxi model.” When crewed Dragons fly to the International Space Station, Reisman says, “All the seats will be filled with NASA bodies.”

Or possibly, as it now appears, Russian bodies.

So ends the dream of many “NewSpace” activists who predicted that Commercial Crew would transform ISS from a government research outpost into a thriving commercial space station, which they called “Alphatown.”

Some NASA employees are disappointed as well. In the early days of the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs, managers hoped that NASA’s money would spawn a new generation of fully reusable rockets. But faced with limited funding from Congress, and the very limited flight rate NASA was asking for, contractors went for much more conservative solutions.

There is one important difference between the “New Space” movement and Lando Calrissian. When Lando recognized the direction in which things were headed, he was willing to walk away from his deal with the Empire. Not so “New Space.” When the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs fail to meet their prior expectations, New Space leaders do not walk away or even protest. They simply reset their expectations. The worse the deal gets, the more loudly New Space leaders praise it.

NASA may not have it so easy this time, however. It’s not merely the “New Space” movement that’s upset about US astronauts flying on Russian rockets. It’s Congress, which has real power. Congress funded Commercial Crew and Cargo under the assumption that they would end US dependence on Russian rockets, not merely reduce it, and may not be happy to hear that’s not happening.

Written by Astro1 on July 29th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

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    bob tuttle commented

    Your article is way way off base. One of the “promises” of commercial space was to have a manned ship launching astronauts to the iss from US soil-that is going to happen! Also once these vehicle(s) are “flying” we no longer will be paying dictator Putin $70 Million for each of our astronauts (thank God!) it will be undertaken through the “barter” system and even Im OK with that. Go Spacex!!!

    July 30, 2014 at 9:23 am
      Astro1 commented

      Launching astronauts from US soil was one of many promises made by CCDev.

      Advocates promised that the program would be conducted under flexible Space Act Agreements, with minimal oversight and open competition between many companies.

      One by one, those promises have been broken. The “commercial” aspects of the program have been steadily eroded, without a word of protest from CCDev advocacy groups.

      July 30, 2014 at 11:30 am
      Astro1 commented

      “Commercial space” is not synonymous with NASA’s CCDev program.

      The term “commercial space” goes back decades. It referred to private companies serving customers. Government contracting was not considered commercial space.

      The goal of commercial space was not merely to launch NASA astronauts to a NASA space station. It was to create a new space industry that served the American people, just as the aviation industry did in the 1930’s.

      In the 1990’s, certain advocacy groups began to argue that government was merely another commercial customer. They argued that government contracting could be done under standard commercial contracts (the forerunner of Space Act Agreements), with no more overhead than any other commercial customer. In other words, government agencies would not behave like government agencies. But it didn’t work out that way. You can’t train a cat to bark.

      July 30, 2014 at 11:50 am
        robert tutle commented

        Re my comment tha we will still be “dependent” on Soyuz-NOT! Dreamchaser, CST-100, manned Dragon. As for space industries to serve the American people I see them all over the internet space sites.

        July 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm
          Astro1 commented

          Again, you need to argue this with NASA. They say they still need to have some US astronauts flying on Soyuz, even with Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser. We are only the messenger.

          Also, there will not be Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser. There will be only one, or at most two, of those. The next “down-select” is coming up this fall (although it might be postponed due to the delay in the NASA budget).

          July 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm
            robert tuttle commented

            Re Mr. Hartmans comments-I believe he means we will fly on Soyuz & they will fly on ours as a matter of “convienence” not as dependency

            July 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Dear Astro1-I wold be interested in “hearing” your comments on my comments-if any. Re your headline “Nasas dependence in Soyuz will continue-no it wont!

    July 30, 2014 at 9:50 am
      Astro1 commented

      We suggest you take the argument up with Dan Hartman and the NASAA Advisory Council. Hartman is the one who made the statement.

      Shooting the messenger is an old tradition among “New Space” advocates.

      July 30, 2014 at 11:04 am
    John commented

    Just stumbled across your site as a pop-up on Facebook. This article convinced me not to join. You position is clearly politically-driven and not even remotely reality-based. Enjoy not making a difference!

    July 30, 2014 at 10:18 am
    robert tuttle commented

    Dear Astro1-I am not “shooting the messenger” (I dont even own a gun-LOL) I am “correcting the messenger-I do not see how “bartering” seats is being dependent on anybody-if thats the case then the Russians are also dependent on us. PS-keep up your good work on this site for those of us citizens who would give their right arm for a chance to “fly” in Space.

    July 30, 2014 at 11:57 am
      Astro1 commented

      I do not see how “bartering” seats is being dependent on anybody.

      If you need to barter for seats, you’re dependent on the people you’re bartering with to supply them.

      Bartering with someone does not mean you’re independent, or that you aren’t paying for goods and services. It simply means the costs are hidden because there is no price information.

      July 30, 2014 at 12:51 pm
      Astro1 commented

      The Russian government is not dependent on the US because Russia is willing to walk away. NASA wants to extend ISS to 2024. The Russian Space Agency doesn’t want to extend the station. They’ve talked about detaching their modules and building a new, independent space station.

      That gives Russia leverage in any negotiations.

      Don’t assume that Russia will agree to trade seats 1:1, either. Dragon seats are expected to be considerably cheaper than Soyuz flights. The Russian government knows that. If they agree to trade 1:1, they will be taking a loss on every seat. That’s not the way Putin does business.

      July 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm
        robert tuttle commented

        By bartering i mean that we (US Taxpayer) will no longer be paying you know who $70 million a pop and with our new spaceship(s) we no longer will be beholden to Putin. Oh I nearly forgot we can also use our Trampolines-they work better than the Russian rockets. Over & Out

        July 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm
          Astro1 commented

          Barter does not mean you get something without paying. Barter means you’re paying in something other than cash. The Russian government will still be getting something of value, otherwise they won’t agree to the deal.

          July 30, 2014 at 4:26 pm
            robert tuttle commented

            I believe that barter means giving something (US Seat) & receiving something of equal value(Soyuz Seat) in return-we both depend on each other which is the way a “partnership” is supposed to operate & it has up till now-overall

            July 30, 2014 at 5:51 pm
            Astro1 commented

            The original goal was not to be “partners” with Putin. It was to get away from that.

            July 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm
            robert tuttle commented

            Could U please-at your convenience-expand on your comment-its gotten me baffeled. I thought that we are partners in the ISS. As+ for him “walking away-as I said let him-good riddance? As far as I know if the “Reds” Oh Oh im not being PC do leave the Iss all we need to keep operating it would be an ATV type vehicle for reboost etc. By the way who “owns” Zarya?

            July 30, 2014 at 7:43 pm
            Astro1 commented

            The Russian segment provides propulsion, guidance, navigation, and control for the station. Without the US, the Russian segment would be short of power. Without Russia, the US segment would fall out of orbit.

            July 30, 2014 at 9:04 pm
            robert tuttle commented

            Which is why i mentioned in one of my other comments that if they “walked away” all we would need to do is develop an ATV type vehicle for reboost etc

            July 31, 2014 at 5:14 am
        robert tuttle commented

        What leverage let em walk

        July 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm