Boeing Is Cutting Metal

I sat in on a Boeing press conference on CST-100 yesterday morning, with several other space reporters, including Andy Pasztor, Ken Chang, Denise Chow, Todd Halvorson, Bill Harwood, and others. I’ll be incorporating some of it into a PM piece that I just wrote, but Pat Brennan at the OC Register has a story this morning.

[Update a while later]

Here’s Todd Halvorson’s story at FL Today.

[Update a while later]

Here are my notes from the presser:

4.5 meter, seven crew, pusher abort system flying in 2015. simplicity for safety/reliability. Space Act Agreement, fixed price, need low development risk, high TRL. Business case challenging. Need development funding/ISS market. Also need other markets. Keith: already started program under CCDev, just did IDR a couple days ago. Complete SDR in October. Pressure-vessel testing at Bigelow’s facilities. Doing drop tests, started a week ago, working on life support. Using rendezvous system from Orbital Express. Not viewgraph engineering.

Berger: Confidence that Boeing has in getting contract? Elbon: Watching that closely. NASA envisions process like COTS. Will have to assess probabilities as they move forward. Want to see commitment downstream so they have better idea of price.

Pat Brennan: Is this a Shuttle replacement? Crew only, can’t replace all capabilities of Shuttle. Will be able to stay for months.

Which authorization bill most favorable? Senate closer to the compromise they’d like to see.
What launch vehicle? Human rate Delta IV, what about hydrogen issue? Looking at Atlas, Delta, Falcon 9. Primary targets EELVs. Systems are human rated, not components. ULA working CCDev for FOSD. Don’t think that any major mods to rockets themselves. Big issues launch pad for crew egress.

Denise Chow: How did they settle on the shape? Good data base on Apollo design, don’t need much wind tunnel. Also good shape for land landing.
What have the biggest challenges been? Pusher abort.

Future for larger capsules in the future? Have to take it one step at a time. Get started with simple safe system and see how market develops.
Private individuals can fly, or just scientists? Hope to have broad markets — need destinations, not NASA only.

Harwood: Will the business model support multiple players? Even with Bigelow, is there enough? Elbon: More launches, lower prices. Working with KSC to find government assets, cost per use rather than having to own them. NASA wants at least two providers. Boeing hopes to get to market first, and see significant flight rate from Bigelow.
What is the order of magnitude of a ticket price? Will be competitive with Soyuz.

Halvorson: Test flight schedule? What vehicles? No vehicle selected yet, but ULA baseline. Late 2013, 2014 for abort tests and orbital flight tests. Pad abort test at White Sands, and rest out of the Cape.

Andy Pasztor: How much overall development cost? How much will Boeing spend? Less than numbers for CRV. How much Boeing spends depends on risk level, and what Congress/FAA/NASA do.

David Baker: What consideration being given to expanding market off shore? Ever launch on Ariane? Have to base business case on those things as upside potential, not baseline. Have considered that and will further develop down the road.
Any interest from Air Force? Not that I know of?

Chang: Anything beyond ISS/Bigelow? Hoping that other ventures will mature. Market is a chicken/egg thing.
Any chance of going forward without NASA business? Unlikely that biz case closes without it.
Bigelow not big enough market? Sees a lot of potential, but also a lot of risk.

Harwood: How reusable? Capsule reused up to ten times. Some parts get ejected (forward cone, base heat shield). Land at White Sands.

Halvorson: How many objectives and how many achieved in CDDev? 36 milestones (four per demo, four for design) completed 22, essentially done by end of year. About halfway to PDR. How long to PDR/CDR? Next spring, then end of year.

Brennan: What’s being done in Huntington Beach? For development, pressure vessel being assembled, base heat shield, AR&D sensors, tied into Houston simulators.

I had two questions. First, how did the pusher abort system work, did it have two different thrust levels, and was it liquid? Answer from Keith: it’s hypergolic (MMH/NTO, like the Shuttle) and has high thrust engines for the abort, and uses lower-thrust RCS for orbital maneuvering. I didn’t follow up on the operations implications for those propellants. The other question was whether or not it could be kitted, or if it was being scarred, for deep-space operations. The answer was no, that would be a different vehicle entirely. This one is for LEO only.

14 thoughts on “Boeing Is Cutting Metal”

  1. My only concern is that Boeing will use it’s clout to price the SpaceX Dragon out of the market, and then gradually increase the CST-100 cost until we’re back to square one on LEO access cost. It’s not like there are many politicains who are smart enough to catch on and stop such from happening.

  2. The specs sound an awful lot like the dragon. It sounds like another Intel vs. AMD matchup. But I think Elon has enough margin to keep Boeing, even with it’s deep pockets, from eating their lunch. Hopefully, Bigelow has real customers ready to go for multiple habitats.

  3. The Shuttle was (is) a great (but flawed) flying machine and we did some wonderful things. But I could never quite kick the feeling during my whole career that I was essentially in care taker status.

    Now that I have been forced to retire things maybe are happening again.


  4. Regarding Boeing pricing versus SpaceX, you have to remember a few things that SpaceX has in their favor:

    1. They own their own launcher, and it is already priced far below Atlas V ($56M vs $130M).

    2. The same Dragon that is used for the ISS CRS program will likely be refurbished and used for the crew program. This will depend on NASA, but since capsules are supposed to be reused, it makes no sense not to let them use refurbished CRS capsules. SpaceX will have 12 leftover from the CRS deliveries, and at least two from the COTS Demo program. That’s 14 capsules already paid for – huge cost advantage.

    3. As of now, SpaceX is a fairly young company, and does not have the legacy infrastructure and overhead costs that Boeing has, so they should be able to be at least competitive with this part of their costing.

    Even though the costs will be tilted towards SpaceX, I think a competitive program like CRS shows that you can award two different companies contracts for the same services, but at vastly different prices. Boeing should have a good shot at being the second least-expensive crew service provider, and that should be enough for a NASA contract (and hopefully one from Bigelow too).

  5. Boeing/Bigelow is baselining an Atlas V launch vehicle. So they have both LOX/RP-1 and LOX/LH2 to “contend” with for operations and abort.

    Having some visibility into the selection of abort systems, I knew about the selection of a liquid pusher abort system a while ago. It was mildly surprising, but I chalk it up to a bad sales job on the part of the solids community. A REALLY bad job…

    Given that SpaceX is going in exactly the same direction, it seems like we might have the makings of an industry standard approach. That would be a giant step in the right direction.

    It would, however, preclude the use of very large solid boosters in manned space systems. That wouldn’t be a tragedy, IMHO. Not that solids don’t have their place, but large systems isn’t one of those places. If you are looking for low-cost access to space, picking a first stage propellant that is two orders of magnitude more expensive than a liquid is not a good move.

  6. Cecil Trotter Said:
    “My only concern is that Boeing will use it’s clout to price the SpaceX Dragon out of the market, and then gradually increase the CST-100 cost until we’re back to square one on LEO access cost. It’s not like there are many politicains who are smart enough to catch on and stop such from happening.”

    Bigelow said he needed 2 suppliers of everythng to close his business case.
    He knew SpaceX was developing the Dragon so he went to Boeing and has been working with them to get the CST-100 of the ground. (sorry about the pun.)

    After all if one capsule has a failure (hopefully non fatal) and is grounded for a period there has to be a backup. Commercial, unlike NASA can’t afford to just stop launching for 12 months leaving the people in Sundancer stranded.

  7. Remember that CST-100 isn’t the whole of Boeing.. this should be obvious.. but they are just a very small department and don’t speak for the whole company. Boeing isn’t pinning the future of the company on CST-100 or anything else.

  8. 4.5 meters? Hah! Just like the BAE early ’80s concept for a 4-6 man “Multi-Role Capsule”. The article printed in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society made for interesting reading.

    What’s really striking though, is how similar the concept MRC is to the final configuration of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Both use an expendable unpressurized “trunk” which has the solar power system. And both have a liquid propellant orbital maneuvering system with the propellant located in the doughnut area in the base of the capsule.

    Oddly though, the MRC has it’s rocket thrusters located in the nose area of the capsule, unlike the Dragon which has them in the base of the capsule.

  9. Boeing is a large company, with a heavy overhead structure, especially in their commercial aircraft division. They are fairly nimble in some of their divisions that don’t have 70 plus years worth of bureaucracy and legacy information. I’ve talked with enough people who have worked for some of these divisions to believe that if Boeing wants to get something done, they can do it low cost and fast. Market agility, I guess. But I agree with Coastal Ron on SpaceX’s current price advantage.
    I think that one other reason to be glad of Boeing’s entry is that it will bring more clout if and when some of the anti-tech types try to shut down the emerging commercial space market. Boeing has some very good, well paid lobbyists, and while this isn’t worth much to them in terms of revenue, they won’t hesitate to use some of that clout. There’s an argument to be had on whether this is a good thing or not, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

  10. Rand: Good coverage…Wonder how much of this is really news and how much is just PR (driven by the WH) to make the Senate version look more appetizing than the House version.

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