Sierra Nevada will fly to the ISS, but NASA does not have a clear plan for Mars

Competition in the field of commercial developmentspace has become a little more heated. As part of the long-awaited press conference, NASA executives announced that the privately owned spaceflight company Sierra Nevada will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK as part of the missions to replenish the International Space Station. What else is told in NASA? Read on.

Sierra Nevada will start sending itsShuttle-like Dream Chaser to the ISS only in 2019, but, as expected, it will be a powerful impetus for science. Sierra Nevada’s missions include a relatively soft landing option and can be quickly and easily unloaded like the Falcon 9 SpaceX. Sierra Nevada will be able to return the cargo from the ISS to Earth in 3-6 hours. This will be very cool for scientists who currently have to wait several days to get samples.

Each company will have at least six flights to the ISS.

This is the second round of commercial suppliers. The first round marked the signing of commercial contracts with SpaceX and Orbital ATK. The fact that both current contract holders experienced setbacks (read: screwed up, exploded), played a role in determining the third candidate. Although the specifics of the selection will be announced later, NASA obviously wants to make sure that it has many different routes for delivering cargo to the space station. New contracts will last until 2024.

Next month will be another SpaceX mission to the ISS (and will also try to land the first stage).

Problems with mars

This is not all news on NASA. If NASA really wants to send people to Mars by the year 2030, it will have to tighten its belt. So says Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), a group that advises NASA on security issues.

Her report raised a number of serious on the subject of rockets and spacecraft that NASA astronauts will carry to Mars. The report also noted that, by and large, the NASA Mars plan is too vague.

“Although a recent NASA report defines a numberspecific technologies that will be needed to fulfill the overall mission, including Solar Electric Propulsion and Deep Space Habitat, it lacks the top-level architecture and mission quality structure. Without these elements, it will be difficult to accurately assess the volume and sequence of development of the necessary technologies, as well as to make sure that they will be ready by the due time.

Answering a question about the absence of a specific planNASA missions, senior executives responded that it is too early for such plans. They don’t want to design vehicles or missions taking into account modern technologies, since in 20 years there can be so many changes that the systems that are required to travel to the Red Planet will change dramatically. ”

Part of the problem, as noted in the report,is political uncertainty. NASA scientists spent years under the Bush administration planning the Constellation program — a plan to send people to the moon and to Mars — which the Obama administration has completely closed. Until the new president arrives, NASA executives are generally wary of embarking on major new projects.

However, without setting out a clear plan for achievingMars, the space agency is putting the Mars Travel program at serious risk. ASAP believes that a well-thought-out mission will have benefits that outweigh these risks, and should go a long way through the approval of the future administration, Congress and the public in general. If not, then NASA needs to work on another mission, or at least choose a different approach to the current mission.

According to the report, we (that is, NASA) are also worththink about returning to the moon before mars. Now everyone is planning to visit the moon - from the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency to private companies. In addition, "it is not clear where NASA will take experience on the surface in low gravity and the necessary technology without experience working with the lunar surface."

Perhaps it makes sense to learn to live on the moon before you go to the Red Planet. But this will add extra value to the plans of the already space-constrained space agency.

Finally, it seems that NASA will have to choose between maintaining the International Space Station and Mars. Continuing maintenance and operation of the ISS after 2024 may postpone the Martian venture.

If you do not pay for ISS operations, you canrelease up to several billion dollars a year and put them into exploration of the near-moon space and beyond. Nevertheless, some NASA executives (and industry partners) publicly talk about the benefits of continuing the work of the ISS until 2028 or even further.

Before the American Space Agency ishard choice. NASA is often praised for the fact that the agency does a lot, with a relatively small budget, but recently it seems that it has exhausted these opportunities.

The first manned private space flights in 2017 may not take place.

And we continue about the sad. The first private space flight companies will carry people to the International Space Station in 2017. In any case, it was planned in NASA. The space agency has already placed orders with Boeing and SpaceX so that the companies are ready to carry cargo with people by the end of next year.

But, according to ASAP, these dates do not smellrealistic. Within the framework of the same report, which compromises the work of NASA wherever possible, the company adviser questioned the possibilities of the Commercial Crew Program, according to which NASA finances the development of missiles and vehicles to transport astronauts to and from the ISS by private companies.

The report says that “there is a high probability of delays in the first test flights,” and also raised questions about the riskiness of the program.


"The maximum allowable probability of losscrew »Commercial Crew Program has grown over time. Ideally, the crew’s death should result in no more than one launch out of 270. But modern commercial projects do not meet such criteria, and the standards have been lowered to one per 200 launches.

Space debris orbiting around the Earthat speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour is the biggest risk factor. NASA wants Boeing and SpaceX to even more try to protect the crew from space debris.

The ASAP report also says that projects havecommercial spacecraft "lack of project maturity." They just go ahead, without stopping to analyze threats. Such an analysis implies a complete analysis of the spacecraft and a study of the risks that each component carries. And although such reports of threats come in, they are not enough, and their quality and dampness calls into question the program. Without a thorough analysis of the threats, ASAP believes that it will be difficult to identify and fix a serious problem with a commercial spacecraft before it is too late.

Also, no matter how boring it is, Boeing andSpaceX (and other commercial providers that may suddenly appear) must certify their spacecraft to NASA, and on this point they are also lagging behind.

Budget problems

The biggest risk of the crew sending programby private companies, in terms of probability and severity, this is the threat of budget cuts, which we have already discussed above. Along with the SLS rocket, the Orion capsule, which will have to send people to Mars, the Commmercial Crew Program may also face constraints on budget and schedule, which will lead to the need to take risky decisions.

Over the years, this program has received lessmoney, than requested, and such pressure on the budget could lead to the fact that NASA "went to unwanted risk for the crew and the mission." But times are changing. The 2016 budget finally includes the sufficient amount that NASA has requested for the Commercial Crew Program.

It remains to solve the problems raised by ASAP. But “with the right funding, the program must succeed in ensuring safe and efficient transportation to low Earth orbit,” the report says.

Well, let's see what happens next.