The design flaws of the SpaceX and Boeing manned spacecraft may deprive NASA of space

NASA Aerospace Agency warnedSpaceX and Boeing private companies about the presence of some design flaws in the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner manned spacecraft being developed by these contractors, Reuters reports, citing industry sources and the new government report of the Space Agency's expert commission. The problems found may threaten the American manned program, which is expected to begin its revival later this year.

The state agency NASA signedcontracts with private aerospace companies SpaceX and Boeing (amount of contracts: 2.6 and 4.2 billion dollars, respectively) to develop launch vehicles and manned spacecraft, through which the US wants to send its astronauts to the International Space Station independently, for the first time since 2011 of the year when the program of space shuttles closed.

Just before scheduled for March 2 firstWith the demonstration (no crew) launch of the manned version of the SpaceX spacecraft from SpaceX, the NASA Security Advisory Group issued an annual report that reported on four “key issues” related to the spacecraft of both companies. As noted in the report, these problems threaten to disrupt the schedule for the start of manned flights.

The report reports on structural vulnerability.Boeing’s spacecraft in the separation of the thermal head fairing. As for SpaceX, then doubts are caused by serious modifications of the Crew Dragon apparatus after the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad in 2016 as a result of a defect in the rocket's fuel system. Questions also caused the method of preparing the launch vehicle to launch: it is assumed that the refueling of the Falcon 9 rocket will be carried out with the crew already on board the spacecraft. "The effectiveness of the parachute landing system" in both vehicles also caused the commission a number of questions.

“Given the launch schedules, for SpaceX and Boeing - these are very serious problems,” the report says.

Two sources close to the question toldto Reuters news agency that the list of problems is far from being limited to these four points. In fact, there are many more problems - in the case of both private space companies, solutions require about 30-35 technical problems. The journalists did not manage to clarify what exactly these problems are, however, sources noted that before that start of the first manned flights, companies would have to solve "the majority of them."

According to sources, in collaboration with SpaceXand Boeing as a result of a rigorous certification process, in which a thorough analysis of the data and a variety of tests are carried out, the NASA risk database is constantly updated. Private companies have already postponed the launch of their manned systems several times, which is quite expected when it comes to multi-billion contracts for the development of spacecraft capable of delivering people into orbit.

One of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft at a manufacturing facility at Cape Canaveral in Florida

At the request of journalists to comment on the situationNASA spokesman Joshua Finch did not give a clear answer about technical issues related to the development of Boeing and SpaceX systems, citing confidentiality, but noted that "security for the agency has always been above some schedules."

Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett stated thatthe company “closed” all the issues of the risks of the structural vulnerability of its spacecraft when it successfully completed the apparatus strength test program in January. And although the company has not yet managed to cope with all the difficulties, “all the changes that have been made do not have any serious architectural changes.”

“Our reports show that our ship’s security exceeds NASA’s stated security requirements,” said Barrett.

SpaceX representative James Gleason in turnwithout false modesty, said that thanks to the cooperation with NASA, the company has developed "one of the safest and most technologically advanced manned spacecraft in history."

"For SpaceX, there is nothing more important than safetycrew, ”commented Gleason, adding that the main long-term goal of the company is the desire to provide man with the opportunity to fly into space.

Founded by Tesona's chief executive IlonMask the company SpaceX with the introduction of reusable media technology was able to reduce the cost of space launches. Boeing, in turn, has been involved in space issues since the 1960s, and is also the world's largest aircraft manufacturer. The technical base is colossal. But time goes on, and the companies have not yet provided ready-to-use manned spacecraft, so the United States has to pay Russia about $ 80 million for each seat aboard the Russian Soyuz system to deliver its astronauts to the ISS.

NASA has for several years sought to abandonservices of the Russian side. That is why the agency has signed contracts with Boeing and SpaceX for the development of manned spacecraft. It was expected that the first manned flights of private spacecraft will take place this year. If the ships are not ready by the end of 2019, NASA risks remaining without access to the ISS. Anticipating this situation, the agency decided to book two more places for its astronauts on the Soyuz. The first will fly in the autumn of 2019, the second - in the spring of 2020. In any case, this will not solve the original goal if the Boeing and SpaceX ships are not ready.

Interior spacecraft Crew Dragon company SpaceX

This Friday, the agency planned to conduct a SpaceX Dragon readiness check, to be sure that the ship would be ready for the scheduled test launch on March 2.

Disadvantages of the parachute system

Three sources close to the topic toldReuters reported that NASA revealed some constructive discrepancies between the earlier version of the SpaceX spacecraft of SpaceX, which is intended to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and the new version, which is planned to be used to send people into orbit.

As it turned out, the design itself causes questionsparachute system. The domes of the latter in the manned version of the ship are significantly larger than in the unmanned. Because of this, there is a risk of their non-disclosure during the descent of the vehicle back into the atmosphere at supersonic speeds. In addition, the timing of the opening of parachutes and their interaction with each other also caused the agency some concerns about their effectiveness. In other words, NASA is not yet sure that the Crew Dragon parachute system will be capable of effectively and at the same time safe for the crew to slow down the vehicle during descent.

According to Gleason, SpaceX is in commercialthe manned program has completed 17 parachute tests. An additional 10 tests are planned before the launch of the second Crew Dragon demo mission. In addition, a company representative added that their parachute system was developed with a margin of efficiency, so the spacecraft and crew in it can be safely landed even if one of the parachutes fails.

However, in the same report of the expert commission onNASA’s security says SpaceX may need to redesign the current parachute system design. This, in turn, is likely to lead to the need for even more checks and tests that will eventually result in weeks or even months of launch delays.

In addition, NASA discovered some problems witha system that helps the SpaceX spacecraft correctly orient themselves in space when landing on water, which increases the risk of excessive amounts of water falling into it. This information was confirmed by two industry sources, and later by the agency itself.

Gleason, in turn, assures that the externalthe shell of the Crew Dragon is completely waterproof, and the device itself has excellent buoyancy. Being inside the ship after landing is completely safe for the crew, adds a SpaceX spokesman.

The risk of additional transfers starts

NASA previously announced that the firstThe demo mission of Crew Dragon without a crew was postponed from February 23 to March 2. The launch of the second demonstration mission, in which people are already flying on the ship, is scheduled to take place in July of this year. The agency explained the delay by the desire of the contractor to conduct additional tests of all ship systems.

As for the Starliner spacecraft fromof Boeing, the demo launch without a crew was supposed to take place no earlier than April of this year. The manned launch was scheduled for August. According to the report of the expert commission, this schedule will also most likely have to be changed, the start time will be postponed to a later date.

According to Boeing company representative JoshBarrett, one of the problems associated with last year’s unsuccessful test of the engines of the emergency start-up system, during which rocket fuel spilled onto the test bench. The incident occurred due to poor quality fuel valves, the design of which has now been reworked. Barrett notes that new valves will require new tests and inspections.

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