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NASA shuts down Goddard $2 billion demo refueling program

After more than a decade of work and more than $1 billion spent, NASA yesterday shut down a Goddard Space Flight Center program, dubbed On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1), that would have attempted to refuel a defunct the Landsat-7 satellite.

This Space News article details the program’s long history:

OSAM-1 started about a decade ago as Restore-L, with the goal of launching as soon as 2020 to refuel Landsat 7. The mission was renamed OSAM-1 in 2020 with the addition of payloads to perform in-space assembly and manufacturing activities.

The mission, though, suffered significant cost overruns and delays. As of April 2022, the mission’s total cost, once projected to be between $626 million and $753 million, had grown to $2.05 billion and its launch delayed to December 2026. NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), in an October 2023 report, concluded the project would likely suffer additional overruns, with an estimated cost at completion as high as $2.17 billion and a launch of between March and June 2027.

The program was originally conceived by Frank “Cepi” Cepollina, who had run the program in the 1980s to use the shuttle and standard parts on satellites to successfully repair the Solar Max satellite, and then headed the program at Goddard that ran all the repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. It was his correct contention that designing satellites and spacecraft with standard modular parts would not only allow for replacement and repair, it would reduce the cost of getting into space while increasing increasing profit margins.

The problem was that Cepi’s operation was a government program, divorced from cost controls and profit. Unlike the many private orbital tug companies that are now building and flying the same technology, developed quickly and for relatively little, the Goddard program experienced endless delays and cost overruns. In the end, private enterprise has overtaken the government, and made this program superfluous. Kudos to NASA’s management for making the hard decision to shut it down finally.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Two billion dollars American, and we don’t even get Tang?

  • Jeff Wright

    They didn’t invent that either.

    Meanwhile, this worthy will have money thrown at him by the sports world:

    My inner Salieri is devising all kinds of ill just about now…

    …something involving a compound fracture…

  • Edward

    From the SpaceNews article:

    OSAM-1 started about a decade ago as Restore-L, with the goal of launching as soon as 2020 to refuel Landsat 7. The mission was renamed OSAM-1 in 2020 with the addition of payloads to perform in-space assembly and manufacturing activities.

    Well, there is where NASA went wrong. Six years into the project they piled on a whole new set of requirements, changing everything, not just the scope but the mass properties, length of mission, additional electronics that must work with the existing electronics, the schedule, new preliminary and critical design reviews, test plans, etc. NASA decided to kludge onto the existing project an entirely different project, which should have been handled by resetting the whole spacecraft back to the conception phase in order to assure that everything would worked together — or better yet, separate the two onto different spacecraft, each with their own projects and priorities. The whole in-space manufacturing and assembly project was at the conception phase while the orbital refueling (retanking) project should have been nearing completion. What a mismatch of project phases.

    So, really, we have lost four years wasted on the manufacturing and assembly project, and whoever gets to continue this is going to get the chance to start afresh, which is what NASA should have done in the first place in 2020.

    “In our discussions with Maxar officials, they acknowledged that they were no longer profiting from their work on OSAM-1,” OIG noted in its report. “Moreover, project officials stated that OSAM-1 does not appear to be a high priority for Maxar in terms of the quality of its staffing.”

    That is hardly surprising. I am so glad that I am not working on OSAM-1 at Maxar, because that last sentence would have called me low quality. There’s a project to leave off anyone’s résumé.

  • Jeff Wright

    DEI again most likely…at least there is some pushback:

    I never had much use for Goddard…Greens run that place—and all they want by-and-large is climate sats they can fix to blackmail American Industry.

    The level of ire libertarians have for MSFC is better aimed at Goddard.

    I want them shuttered.

  • James Street

    I could have produced nothing in half the time and half the cost.

    Jeff Wright, that was my first thought as well. Sometimes DEI doesn’t just plug up the plumbing, sometimes it kills people.

    “Former Boeing Senior Official Refuses to Fly on “Max” Airplanes Because of Shoddy Workmanship He Witnessed Firsthand”

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