Tag Archives: NASA

NASA to extend use of private module on ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA has decided to extend the life of Bigelow’s module BEAM on ISS beyond its original two year test.

NASA’s original contract with Bigelow was to keep BEAM on ISS for two years and then jettison it, but NASA has concluded that BEAM has value as a storage compartment and wants to keep it there. NASA said the new contract would overlap the originally contracted test period, for a minimum of three years, with two options to extend for one additional year. A decision on whether to jettison it at that point or continue using it will be made thereafter.

The agency said that not only would NASA use it for stowage, but Bigelow will be allowed to use it “as a test-bed for new technology demonstrations.”

Using it makes a lot more sense than jettisoning it (the typical government way). This will also allow them to study the longevity in space of an expandable module.

Share

Boeing delays first manned Starliner flight

Capitalism in space: It appears that Boeing has pushed back the first manned flight of its Starliner capsule from August 2018 to early 2019.

In an interview at the conference, Ferguson said that the company’s current schedule calls for a pad abort test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the second quarter of 2018. That would be followed by an uncrewed orbital test flight of the vehicle, launched on an Atlas V, in the third quarter of 2018. “If the results of that are very favorable,” he said of the uncrewed flight test, “our crewed flight test is fourth quarter — perhaps, depending on the outcome, maybe the first quarter of the following year.”

This schedule appears to be an overall three to five month delay in their program.

Share

Webb Space Telescope delayed again

NASA announced today that they are further delaying the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope from October 2018 to late spring 2019.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope now is planning to launch between March and June 2019 from French Guiana, following a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities. Previously Webb was targeted to launch in October 2018. “The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected.”

As part of an international agreement with the ESA (European Space Agency) to provide a desired launch window one year prior to launch, NASA recently performed a routine schedule assessment to ensure launch preparedness and determined a launch schedule change was necessary. The careful analysis took into account the remaining tasks that needed to be completed, the lessons learned from unique environmental testing of the telescope and science instruments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the current performance rates of integrating the spacecraft element.

Webb’s original launch date was supposed to be 2011, making its launch now verging on a decade late. The original budget for the telescope was supposed to be $1 billion. It is now expected to cost more than $9 billion. Like SLS/Orion, this project more resembles feather-bedding, providing NASA employees and the contractors involved a steady paycheck, regardless of whether they ever get anything done. In fact, both Webb and SLS/Orion seemed designed to encourage failure. The project never gets cancelled no matter what goes wrong. Instead, more money gets poured in.

Share

Lockheed Martin unveils concepts for Mars ship and lander

The boondoggle lobbying continues! Lockheed Martin today unveiled its concepts for a Mars interplanetary ship, built around its Orion capsule, as well as a fully reusable Mars lander.

The timing of this announcement fits perfectly with last week’s NASA announcement of its concepts for building a lunar space station, along with this week’s announcement to study doing it with the Russians. It also times perfectly with the announcement that the first public meeting of the National Space Council will take place on October 5. And tonight Elon Musk will give an update on his own proposals for getting to Mars.

All these public relations announcements suggest to me that the Trump administration is getting close to unveiling its own future space policy, and they all suggest that this policy will be to build a space station around the Moon. My guess is that Lockheed Martin and SpaceX are vying for a piece of that pie in their announcements today.

Let me also note that Lockheed Martin’s concept above illustrates nicely what a lie Orion is and has always been. They have been touting it for years as the vehicle that will get Americans to Mars, but now admit that it can only really be a small part of a much larger interplanetary ship, and will be there mostly to be the descent capsule when astronauts want to come home. They also admit in the video at the first link that their proposal for getting to Mars is only a concept. To build it would require many billions of dollars. I wonder will it cost as much as Orion and SLS ($43 billion plus) and take as long (18 years plus) to build? If so, it is a bad purchase. We can do this faster, and for less.

Share

NASA and Roscomos sign agreement to work together to build lunar orbiting station

Extending the pork: NASA and Roscosmos have signed an agreement agreeing to work together in the construction of what NASA calls a deep space gateway, a space station orbiting the Moon.

The goal here is to garner political support for getting funding to fly a third SLS/Orion mission, which would be its second manned flight. It is also to establish some long term justification for SLS/Orion, which presently has no mission and will disappear after its first manned test flight, presently scheduled for 2022. That single test flight will have taken 18 years and more than 40 billion dollars to build, an absurd timeframe and cost for a single mission that does not bode well for future SLS/Orion missions.

The Russian perspective can be found here. They claim that the station would be finished by 2024-2026, an absurd prediction based on the expected SLS launch rate of one launch every one to two years. For Russia, the hope is that they can use this project to get U.S. money, just like the big American space companies like Lockheed Martin (Orion) and Boeing (SLS).

Share

First meeting of National Space Council announced

A Potemkin Village: The White House has announced the date of the first public meeting of the National Space Council, set for October 5 at the Air & Space Museum.

Today, Vice President Mike Pence announced the first meeting of the National Space Council is scheduled for October 5, 2017 at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The meeting, titled “Leading the Next Frontier: An Event with the National Space Council,” will include testimonials from expert witnesses who represent the sectors of the space industry: Civil Space, Commercial Space, and National Security Space.

What this announcement tells me is that this council isn’t there to discuss and set space policy, but to sell that policy to the public. And right now, I am expecting that sales job will be trying to convince us that we must use SLS/Orion mission to build a new space station orbiting the Moon by 2023. They will use the council to pitch the idea, and then Trump will make the traditional Kennedy-like speech, with lots of astronauts standing behind him, committing this nation to putting a space station around the Moon by such-and-such a date. Whoopie!

Forgive me if I sound a bit cynical. I’ve seen this show many times before. For some reason, the opening act is great, but then it fades always away into nothingness before the second act begins.

Share

First manned SLS/Orion flight officially delayed to 2022

Government in action! The first manned flight of SLS/Orion has now been officially delayed one year until 2022, and that date remains questionable.

In addition, the first unmanned test flight of SLS/Orion has now also been delayed until December 2019, something that had been under consideration but is now official. Even with this delay, there are doubts whether that flight can take place then, which is why the 2022 launch of the first manned flight is questionable.

The article outlines in detail the Byzantine scheduling issues that NASA must fulfill to meet these launch dates, including a long timeline of deliveries that seems absurd when compared to how private companies operate.

Assuming that these new dates occur as announced (something I sincerely doubt), the first unmanned launch of SLS/Orion will occur almost 16 years after President Bush first proposed it, with the first manned flight occurring more than 18 years after his proposal. In that time NASA will have spent about $43 billion for this one manned mission. Let me repeat: $43 billion and almost two decades to fly one manned mission. Quite absurd.

The article also details NASA’s proposal for a third SLS/Orion mission, the second manned, to occur in 2023, which would begin assembly of a space station in lunar orbit. I suspect that this mission is going to be announced in what will be President Trump’s version of the typical Kennedy-like speech that Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama have all given, announcing big plans in space by such-and-such deadline.

Whether Congress funds it remains to me an open question. Right now I would predict they would, since they love the pork that SLS/Orion provides. In two years, when Falcon Heavy has flown several times and is likely becoming operational, and New Glenn is getting close to its first test launch, I am not so sure. Both will be flying before SLS’s first flight and both will have been developed for a tenth the cost with equal if not greater capabilities. And both will be able to fly more frequently for practically nothing, when compared to SLS.

Share

NASA’s international outreach continues

Barack Obama’s demand that NASA focus on teaching international students, especially Muslims, on how to get into space is continuing in the Trump administration.

The list of countries participating, available here, is not confined only to Muslim countries, and seems reasonable: Australia, Brazil, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At the same time, it is a reasonable question whether this should really one of NASA’s focuses.

Note one interesting detail. The European Space Agency is listed as one of these nations, but its program is presently on hold for reasons that are not explained.

Share

The Worst Part of Losing Cassini Is That It Has No Replacement

Link here. This article is an honest review of the current lack of concrete plans by anyone to send a new probe to Saturn. While there are some tentative missions in the works, nothing is certain.

[I]f looking back on Cassini’s major discoveries at Saturn, Titan, and Enceladus have left you thirsty for more, we have some bad news: That thirst is going to go unquenched for a while. Talks of Uranus and Neptune missions are tentative at best. The best hope for Saturn now comes from NASA’s New Frontiers program, which looks for excellent medium-cost missions has spawned spacecraft including Jupiter’s Juno and Pluto’s New Horizons. This round of New Frontiers missions must launch by 2024, and there are two Enceladus proposals, a Titan proposal, and a Saturn atmospheric probe under consideration. We may hear word about those proposals by the end of the year “Hang tight, we’re going through the evaluations now and we’ll be announcing at the end of the year what some of the finalists will be,” Jim Green, NASA Planetary Science Director, said at the Cassini press conference Friday morning.

This list of possible Saturn missions sounds great, but they are all competing against each other and a number of other equally (and possibly more) interesting missions to other places. And with the federal budget out of control and mired in debt, there isn’t really a lot of money to go around.

Share

An oral history of the Cassini mission to Saturn

Link here. Those who have read my book on the building of the Hubble Space Telescope will recognize many of the same people and political maneuvers used to get the project off the ground and funded.

Note too that the idea of Cassini was first proposed in 1982, but it didn’t actually launch until 1997. Fifteen years. While today I think such a spacecraft could go from concept to launch much faster, this timeline gives us a guide on when the next Saturn orbiter might launch. At the earliest do not expect another mission to Saturn to launch before 2025.

Share

Trump nominates James Bridenstine as NASA administrator

As expected for months, Trump late yesterday nominated Congressman James Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) as the new administrator of NASA.

He will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. Interestingly, both Florida senators, a Democrat and a Republican, have announced their opposition to the nomination.

Bridenstine is somewhat in favor of private space, but previous analysis of his past proposals by myself and others has not been encouraging. What he will do as head of NASA however remains unknown. Based on his past statements, I would be surprised if he cut back on either commercial space or SLS.

Share

SpaceX postpones Mars Dragon missions

Based on statements from one NASA official, it appears that SpaceX has put its plans to fly a Dragon capsule to Mars on “the back burner.”

Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, told Spaceflight Now in an interview that SpaceX has told the agency that it has “put Red Dragon back on the back burner.”

“We’re available to talk to Elon when he’s ready to talk to us … and we’re not pushing him in any way,” Green said. “It’s really up to him. Through the Space Act Agreement, we’d agreed to navigate to Mars, get him to the top of the atmosphere, and then it was up to him to land. That’s a pretty good deal, I think.”

It is my impression that, because NASA has forced SpaceX to give up on propulsive landing of its Dragon manned capsules, the company cannot afford to invest the time and money on it themselves, and thus do not have a method yet for landing a Dragon on Mars. Thus, they must postpone this program.

Share

ULA’s Atlas 5 successfully launches NASA communications satellite

Capitalism in space: ULA this morning successfully launched NASA TDRS-M communications satellite, following a several week delay caused by an accident during satellite preparation that forced the replacement of the satellite’s antenna.

This was ULA’s fifth launch for 2017, which is behind the once-a-month pace they have maintained for the previous five years.

Share

Development of argon plasma rocket engine continues

Capitalism in space: The argon-fueled plasma rocket engine being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket Company has advanced its test engine firings from 30 seconds long to five minutes long.

Their $9 million contract with NASA calls for a 100-hour-long engine firing by 2018. At the moment the company says they are on schedule to meet that goal.

Share

Republican Senate committee restores all cuts to NASA climate budget

Failure theater: The Senate Appropriations Committee today marked up NASA’s budget, restoring almost all of the proposed cuts, including cuts to the agency’s climate programs that both the Trump administration and the House had proposed.

The only program it appears the Senate cut was NASA’s planetary program, which they trimmed by almost 25%.

This only provides more evidence that the large number of the Republicans in the Senate are not really Republicans. They certainly aren’t conservative. And it sure appears that they aren’t very smart either, considering that NASA’s planetary program is one of its most successful endeavors.

We shall see how this budget shakes out in the coming months. Overall I am not hopeful. It appears to me that this Republican Congress wants to spend big bucks, and is hell bent on doing it.

Share

Cameras on next Kepler-like exoplanet space telescope out of focus

NASA has revealed that the cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) become slightly out of focus when they are cooled to -75 Celsius, the temperature they will experience in space.

NASA has also decided that the fuzziness is not enough to require a fix, and is proceeding with the mission as is, despite concerns expressed by scientists.

Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution, brought up the issue in a summary of a meeting last week of the Astrophysics Advisory Committee, of which he is a member. “That could have some big effects on the photometry,” he said of the focus problem. “This is certainly a concern for the folks who know a lot about photometry.”

TESS will use those cameras to monitor the brightness of the nearest and brightest stars in the sky, an approach similar to that used by Kepler, a spacecraft developed originally to monitor one specific region of the sky. Both spacecraft are designed to look for minute, periodic dips in brightness of those stars as planets pass in front of, or transit, them. Chou said that since TESS is designed to conduct photometry, measuring the brightness of the stars in its field of view, “resolution is less important compared to imaging missions like Hubble.” However, astronomers are concerned that there will be some loss of sensitivity because light from the stars will be spread out onto a slightly larger area of the detector.

“The question is how much science degradation will there be in the results,” Boss said. “The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect.”

It could be that NASA has decided that the cost and delay required to fix this is not worth that 10% loss of data.

Share

TDRS-M launch moved to August 20

NASA has decided to delay the launch of its TDRS-M satellite until August 20.

This simplifies their launch schedule, as it allows SpaceX to launch as planned on August 12 and thus not interfere with an August 17 Russian spacewalk that is releasing two satellites from ISS. It will also give them plenty of time to replace the antenna that was damaged during launch prep, in an incident which they still have not described in any detail.

Share

The damage and repair of TDRS-M creates complicated scheduling problems

Because of the launch delay caused by the accident that damaged the antenna of NASA’s TDRS-M communication satellite, requiring its replacement, the agency is now faced with a cascading series of scheduling problems.

They are now aiming for an August 10 launch of TDRS-M on a ULA Atlas 5. This will then force a delay in the August 12 launch of a Dragon capsule to ISS to August 14, which can’t be delayed past August 16 because of a scheduled Russian spacewalk on ISS that must happen on August 17 because it involves the release of two satellites. Making things even more complicated is Dragon’s cargo, which includes mice for a rodent experiment. If it doesn’t occur before August 16, the mice will then have to be replaced with fresh mice, causing further delays.

There is then even the chance that these scheduling problems might impact SpaceX’s scheduled August 28’s launch of the X-37B, as well as ULA’s scheduled August 31 launch of surveillance satellite.

One additional tidbit: This Dragon will be the last unused cargo capsule. All future SpaceX cargo missions will use previously flown capsules.

I should add that these scheduling issues illustrate starkly the growing need for more launch sites. There is money to be made here, fulfilling this need.

Share

NASA and Lockheed Martin to build simulated interplanetary spaceship, on the ground

Yawn. NASA and Lockheed Martin have partnered to re-purpose a leftover shuttle cargo module into a ground-based simulated interplanetary spaceship.

Lockheed Martin announced it will refurbish the Donatello multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM), transforming from it from its original, unrealized role as a supply conveyor for the International Space Station to a test and training model of a living area for astronauts working beyond Earth orbit. The work is being done under a public-private partnership between the aerospace corporation and NASA. “We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware,” said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for the deep space habitat contract, in a statement.

…Over an 18-month period, Lockheed Martin will build upon its deep space habitat concept it developed during the first phase of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program by using virtual and augmented reality prototyping in an effort to reduce costs and schedule, as well as identify and address issues while early in the design process. The results, to be shared with the space agency, will help to further understanding of the systems, standards and interfaces needed to make living in deep space possible.

This is nice, but it is essentially make-work for Lockheed Martin and a waste of money. At this stage of our engineering knowledge, we need to fly our interplanetary spaceship prototypes. Building them on the ground can only provide a limited amount of new knowledge, much of which has already been learned from numerous very similar past ground-based experiments.

For example, why isn’t NASA and Lockheed Martin also partnering with SpaceX, contracting to fly Donatello on the Falcon Heavy? That makes a lot more sense, and would not cost a lot of additional money. In fact, it might be quite cheap, since SpaceX needs customers willing to gamble on its new heavy-lift rocket.

Share

NASA and Boeing to replace damaged antenna on NASA satellite

Due to an accident during satellite launch preparations, NASA and Boeing are planning to replace a damaged antenna on NASA’s TDRS-M satellite, used by NASA mainly for communications between the ground and ISS.

The update at the link however says nothing whether the satellite will still launch on August 3, as presently scheduled. Nor have they released any information about the accident itself.

Share

Sierra Nevada picks ULA’s Atlas 5 for first two Dream Chaser cargo flights

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has awarded ULA the contract for the first two cargo flights of Dream Chaser to ISS.

The announcement sets Dream Chaser’s first cargo flight to the International Space Station for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in 2020. A second ISS cargo flight is contracted to lift off the next year. “ULA is an important player in the market and we appreciate their history and continued contributions to space flights and are pleased to support the aerospace community in Colorado and Alabama,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Share

NASA communications satellite damaged during launch prep

A NASA TDRS communications satellite, scheduled for a August 3 launch on a ULA Atlas 5 rocket, was damaged on July 14 while it was undergoing final preparations for launch.

Though the issue apparently involves one of the satellite’s main antennas, it is unclear what happened exactly or how extensive the damage was. Furthermore, this article about the incident notes that an earlier incident had also occurred during shipping.

It is understood this latest incident is not related to a ‘close call’ that NASA was investigating earlier in the flow. That incident involved the spacecraft’s shipping container – containing environmental instrumentation – which slid a couple of feet on the trailer it was being winched on to.

If I was a customer who might want to buy the launch services of ULA, I would demand detailed information about why these incidents happened, including what measures are being taken to prevent them from occurring again.

Share

White House appoints first member of National Space Council

The Trump administration today announced that Scott Pace will be the executive secretary of the National Space Council, headed by Vice-President Mike Pence.

Some might immediately think I will be upset by this choice, as Pace wrote a critical and what I consider to be a weak review of my policy paper, Capitalism in Space. This however is not true. We might have disagreed on some points, but I think that Pace might be an ideal choice. He has the ear and the support of the big government space companies, but also understands the need to let private enterprise run things more, a point he himself expressed in his review of my policy paper. As Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show wrote me today in an email,

Pace was the deputy administrator when Mike Griffin formed COTS which has turned out to be a pillar program for the emerging commercial space industry. I also know Scott is grounded well in economics, policy, and realism. He is politically savvy as well and that expertise will be needed to move policy and constructive programs forward.

Pace’s connections with the contractors who have been building SLS/Orion for decades are of course a concern, but his connections with COTS is cause for celebration. We can only wait and see where this goes.

Share

House appropriations approves NASA and NOAA budgets

The squealing of pigs: The House appropriations committee yesterday approved the budgets for both NASA and NOAA, essentially accepting the budget numbers approved by its subcommittee.

Overall, the House increased spending over the Trump administration’s proposed cuts. Only in the area of climate did the legislators appear to support those cuts, and even here they pumped more money in.

The Trump Administration proposed a deep cut to [NOAA’s Polar Follow-On mission] saying it will re-plan the program ($180 million instead of the $586 million NOAA said last year it would need for FY2018). The committee went even further, approving only $50 million, but added it would reconsider if NOAA provides a better explanation of how it is restructuring the program. NOAA’s plans for new space weather satellites also fell far short of what the agency planned last year, although the committee provided more ($8.5 million) than the Trump Administration requested ($500,000).

In general, do not expect this Republican Congress to gain any control over the federal deficit. They are as spendthrift as Democrats. The only difference is their choice of programs.

Share

NASA and JAXA approve replacement of failed Japanese X-ray space telescope

NASA and JAXA have agreed to build a replacement for the Japanese Hitomi X-ray space telescope that failed after only a few weeks in orbit in March 2016.

The X-ray Astronomy Recovery Mission, or XARM, could launch as soon as March 2021, filling a potential gap in astronomers’ X-ray vision of the universe, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. NASA has agreed to a junior partner in XARM — pronounced “charm” — and supply X-ray telescopes and a spectrometer instrument for the Japanese-led mission, according to Paul Hertz, directory of NASA’s astrophysics division.

Share

Pablum from Pence on space

If you want to waste about about 25 minutes of your life, you can listen to the speech that Vice President Mike Pence gave today at the Kennedy Space Center here, beginning at the 49:30 minute mark.

My advice is that you don’t do it. Pence said nothing. He handed out a lot of empty promises and cliches, without any specifics or details of any kind. He confirmed for me what I have suspected of Pence for several years, that despite the fact that he lives and breathes a conservative and honorable personal life, as a politician he is a hack.

He made a big deal about the recreation of the National Space Council, which he now leads. However, as this article by Eric Berger properly noted the people who seem to be exerting the most influence on that council, on Trump, and on Pence are from the big space companies that have spent more than a decade and a half spending about $40 billion trying to build a big rocket (SLS) to fly a single unmanned test flight of the Orion capsule.

My pessimism here might be misplaced. We still do not know who will be on this space council. Furthermore, the Trump administration has been very good at doing a lot of public relations and soft stroking of its opponents in order to put them off guard prior to hitting them hard, where it hurts. This might be what Pence was doing here.

Nonetheless, the lack of any substance in Pence’s remarks makes me fear that he will be easily influenced by the big players who simply want the federal cash cow to continue sending them money, whether or not they ever build anything.

Share

Republican Senate restores spending in NASA budget

The Senate subcommittee marking up the proposed NASA budget has followed the House lead and restored most of the cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

The bill provides nearly $780 million more for NASA than the administration’s request, including an increase of more than $615 million for exploration programs, such as the Space Launch System and Orion. “We made sure the Space Launch System is fully funded, and that astronauts will have the ability to go beyond low Earth orbit in the Orion crew vehicle,” Culberson said.

The bill restores funding for NASA’s Office of Education, which was slated to be closed in the budget proposal. The bill provides $90 million for the office, including funds for two programs in that office, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, that would have been shut down.

More here.

It appears that Republicans, like Democrats, have no interest in gaining any control over its out-of-control spending. The Trump budget was a very reasonable document, and would have done no harm to NASA’s overall mission, and in many ways would have helped focus it. Congress however can’t stop spending, no matter who the voters put in power.

The only area where Republicans seem willing to fight for cuts is in NASA’s climate budget. With both the House and the Senate bills, the Republicans supported most of these cuts, though not all.

Overall, this whole process, and the contempt Congress and Washington has for the American people, was best demonstrated by this quote from Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia):

“I’m not sure the private sector is going to step in with so much left undone.”

In other words, private enterprise can’t do it! We need big government, routinely over budget and behind schedule, to make it happen!

Share

Republican House restores spending in NASA budget

The House committee marking up NASA’s budget has added about $800 million to the budget proposed by the Trump administration, restoring the proposed cuts in the SLS/Orion budget as well as in NASA’s education programs.

NASA’s exploration account receives the largest increase in the House bill: a $616 million increase over the request to $4.55 billion. The bill would fund the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System at the same levels as in the 2017 omnibus bill, rather than the lower levels in the budget proposal. It increases funding for ground systems and exploration research and development above both the request and the 2017 omnibus bill.

The bill would also restore much of NASA’s education program, which the administration proposed closing in its 2018 budget request, offering $37.3 million in closeout costs. The bill offers $90 million for education, $10 million below the 2017 level. The bill specifically funds two programs in that office, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, that would have been shut down in the budget request.

Plans to end those education programs faced bipartisan opposition when the CJS subcommittee held a hearing on NASA’s budget proposal June 8. “I’m concerned about, in your budget, your cuts to the Office of Education,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who is now a member of the CJS subcommittee. “I can’t understand why you would want to cut that.”

The budget also adds money to the planetary budget, but also micromanages NASA by ordering it to fly two missions to Europa.

What this budget tells me is that the Republicans in Congress have no idea why Trump was elected. The public likes space, but it does not like its tax dollars wasted, and the public who voted for Trump (and the Republicans) considers much of what the federal government does to be a big waste. They want that budget trimmed. The Trump budget didn’t gut NASA, but it did try to refocus its effort away from pork. These House changes reinstate much of that pork.

Share

First test launches of commercial manned vehicles upcoming

The first unmanned test flights of the manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing are moving forward and appear to be on schedule.

Currently, SpaceX is on track to be the first to perform their uncrewed flight, known as SpX Demo-1, with Dr. Donald McErlean reporting to the ASAP that the flight continues to target a launch later this year. Currently, both NASA and SpaceX hold that SpX Demo-1 will fly by the end of the year – though L2 level KSC scheduling claims the mission has potentially slipped to March 2018.

Regardless, SpX Demo-1 will be followed – under the current plan – by Boeing’s uncrewed OFT (Orbital Flight Test) in mid-2018.

The article is worth a careful read, as it describes in detail the political and bureaucratic maneuverings that are taking place to get the NASA bureaucracy to accept the work being done by these two private companies. Make sure especially that you read the section about NASA’s desire that the vehicles meet an imaginary safety standard where they will only lose a crew once every 270 flights. The NASA bureaucracy has claimed for the last few years that neither spacecraft is meeting this requirement, but according to this article it appears they are finally also admitting that the requirement has really little basis in reality.

According to the ASAP [Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel] meeting minutes, Dr. McErlean said that “While these LOC [Loss of Crew] numbers were known to be challenging, and both providers have been working toward meeting the challenge, it is conceivable that in both cases the number may not be met.”

However, Dr. McErlean cautioned the ASAP and NASA about rushing to judgement on the current and whatever the final LOC number for each vehicle is. “The ASAP is on record agreeing with the Program that one must be judicious in how one applies these statistical estimates. In the case of LOC, the numbers themselves depend very heavily on the orbital debris model used to develop the risk to the system [as] orbital debris is a driving factor in determining the potential for LOC. The orbital debris models have been used and validated to some degree, but they are not perfect. One must be wary of being too pernicious in the application of a specific number and must look at whether the providers have expended the necessary efforts and engineering activity to make the systems as safe as they can and still perform the mission.”

To that last point, Dr. McErlean reported that both providers indeed “expended the necessary efforts and engineering activity to make the systems as safe as they can.” Importantly, too, Dr. McErlean noted that there was no evidence that spending more money on closing the LOC gap for both providers “could [make] their systems considerably safer.”

The ASAP at large concurred with this finding and noted their pleasure at the progress made in closing the LOC gap for both Dragon and Starliner. [emphasis mine]

In other words, NASA’s safety panel is eventually going to sign off, no matter what. Note also that the GAO’s earlier complaints about Boeing’s parachute testing program have now apparently vanished.

Share
1 2 3 33