NASA corrupt safety panel once again blathers on

The corrupt safety panel at NASA that spent years slowing down SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule development with sometimes absurd demands, including delays caused simply because of paperwork, is now demanding that NASA should slow its approval of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, even if its unmanned demo mission next week succeeds completely.

This quote from the article best illustrates this safety panel’s do-nothing bureaucratic view of the world:

A further concern is that Starliner uses the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket to get to orbit, but Atlas Vs are being phased out. ULA is building a new rocket, Vulcan, that could see its first launch late this year, but must go through a “human-rating” certification process that [panel member David] West said “could take years” for Starliner. [emphasis mine]

Every demand of this panel for years has demanded years of delays, with many having nothing to do with technical safety — the panel’s original purpose — but with management questions and the panel’s own overblown opinion of itself. Worse, some of its demands never made sense, such as its objection to SpaceX’s launch procedures where it fueled the rocket after the astronauts got on board. This quote from an earlier post about the panel’s recent inappropriate attempt to insert itself into NASA’s policy decisions sums things up well, and provides links to previous failures of the panel:

This panel continues to demonstrate its corrupt and power-hungry attitude about how the U.S. should explore space. For years it did whatever it could to stymie NASA’s efforts to transfer ownership to the private sector, putting up false barriers to the launch of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule that made no sense and were really designed to keep all control within the government bureaucracy.

It is now targeting Boeing, though amazingly it is only doing it after many of Starliner’s technical problems have been uncovered. The safety panel was a complete failure in spotting the company’s problems early on, several years ago, when it might have saved everyone a lot of time and money. Instead, it now acts like an annoying back seat driver, only kibitzing about things that went wrong long after everyone else has done the work.

I have been saying for years that it is time to shut this panel down. It is now long past time to do so. The time and money saved might actually improve safety far more than the panel ever has.

SpaceX aiming to launch 52 times in 2022

According to NASA officials, SpaceX is hoping to complete as many as 52 launches in 2022, a pace of one launch per week.

The impressive figure was given during a virtual meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, or ASAP, which gives guidance to the space agency on how to maintain safety within its biggest programs. “NASA and SpaceX will have to be watchful during 2022 that they’re not victims of their success,” Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut and member of the panel, said during the meeting. “There’s an ambitious 52-launch manifest for SpaceX over the course of the year. And that’s an incredible pace.”

Based on other sources, I had previously estimated a SpaceX manifest for ’22 to be 40 launches. That this new higher number comes from NASA’s corrupt safety panel, and was touted as a reason to raise questions about SpaceX, makes me suspicious of it.

Still, a launch pace by SpaceX of one launch per week is wholly possible. For one thing, the company needs to get a lot of Starlink satellites into orbit as quickly as possible. With its development of Starship blocked by government interference, it might have decided to up the pace of launches using Falcon 9.

Furthermore, because most of the rocket is reused, SpaceX has a far greater launch capacity. For every Falcon 9 it builds it gets ten or more launches from its first stage. This means SpaceX does not have to build as much to maintain a high launch pace.

As for the safety panel’s fears about such a pace, who cares? That safety panel has been consistently wrong about everything it has said about SpaceX and commercial space now for almost a decade. It is very likely wrong now. In a more rational world, NASA would have shut it down two years ago for doing such a bad job. Sadly, we no longer live in a rational world.

NASA safety panel on SLS schedule, Dragon explosion

NASA’s safety panel held a long scheduled meeting to review NASA’s on-going manned projects, and had the following to say:

The first story describes very little new information about the explosion on April 20th that destroyed the Dragon crew capsule during engine tests, other than it occurred in connection with the firing of the Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. I am being vague because they were.

The second story describes the panel’s strong objection to any effort by NASA to trim the test program for SLS in order to meet the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline for returning to the Moon. It also confirms officially for the first time that NASA will not be able to fly the first unmanned mission of SLS in 2020. That flight is now expected in 2021, a decade after NASA began development of SLS, and seventeen years after George Bush Jr first proposed NASA build this heavy-lift rocket.

That’s practically one person’s entire career at NASA. Seems pretty shameful to me.

While I actually agree with the panel’s advice in both of these stories, both stories however do reflect the overall culture of this safety panel: Go slow, take no risks, be patient. This culture is in fact so cautious that it has served to practically make impossible any American exploration of space, on our own rockets.

Based on what I expect now during the investigation of the Dragon explosion, I would not be surprised if the panel successfully delays the first manned Dragon launch another year or two or three.

NASA’ safety panel illustrates the impossibility of exploration by NASA

Last week NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) issued its 2017 report [pdf], detailing the areas it has concerns for human safety in all of NASA’s programs. Not surprisingly, the report raised big issues about SpaceX, suggesting its manned launch schedule was questionable and that there were great risks using the Falcon 9 rocket as presently designed.

ASAP was especially concerned with the issues with the Falcon 9 COPV helium tanks and how they were connected with the September 2016 launchpad explosion, as well as SpaceX’s approach to fueling the rocket. Below is a screen capture of the report’s pertinent section on this.

ASAP SpaceX concerns

The report complements NASA and SpaceX for looking at a new design for the COPV helium tanks, but also appears quite willing to force endless delays in order to make sure the issue here is completely understood, even though this is likely impossible for years more.

ASAP also raises once again its reservations about SpaceX’s method of fueling the Falcon 9, which would have them fill the tanks after the astronauts are on board so that the fuel can be kept cold and dense to maximize performance. This issue I find very silly. The present accepted approach is to fill the tanks, then board the astronauts. SpaceX wants to board the astronauts, then fill the tanks. Either way, the astronauts will be in a rocket with tons of volatile fuel and oxidizer. I really do not see why it makes that much of a difference, especially with SpaceX building a successful track record using its approach with each successful commercial launch. They did 18 last year alone.

Below the fold is a screen capture of the report’s entire summary, with some sections highlighted by me.
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