Tag Archives: NASA

NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

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NASA awards SpaceX deal to provide cargo to Gateway

Capitalism in space: Should NASA ever decide to build its proposed Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon (the odds of which have gone down recently), it announced today that it has signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgraded larger version of its Dragon capsule to ship cargo to that station.

The deal calls for at least two missions, and is SpaceX’s first deal in NASA’s Artemis program.

This deal is a major blow to SLS and Boeing, which up to now had a monopoly on all launches to supply and launch Gateway. In fact, Gateway was invented by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA (not Congress) in order to justify SLS’s existence. That NASA has now decided it is better off using the much cheaper and already operational Falcon Heavy for some Gateway missions suggests that SLS is increasingly vulnerable to cancellation. NASA is making it obvious that other commercial options exist. No need to wait years and spend billions for SLS, when they can go now, for much less.

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Dragon parachute test aborted

Because of the failure of the equipment unrelated to the parachutes, the helicopter pilot for a drop test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon parachutes on March 24, 2020 was forced to release the dummy capsule early, causing its loss.

“During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable,” SpaceX said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release,” the statement added. “As the helicopter was not yet at target conditions, the test article was not armed, and as such, the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence. While the test article was lost, this was not a failure of the parachute system, and most importantly, no one was injured. NASA and SpaceX are working together to determine the testing plan going forward in advance of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission.”

This issue, combined with the loss of a Falcon 9 first stage (on its fifth flight) during re-entry, because one engine failed to function properly, is making some news sources suggest that NASA will delay the planned May launch of Dragon’s first manned mission to ISS.

If NASA demands a delay of that May manned mission because of these two issues, it will demonstrate how truly insane our society has become. While the issue prevented the drop test, it involved the equipment that suspended the dummy capsule below the helicopter, not the parachute system. Furthermore, this test was one of the very last tests of the parachute system, following a test campaign during the past few months that has worked repeatedly on numerous tests.

As for the first stage loss, do I have to repeat again that it occurred on the stage’s fifth reuse, and after it had successfully launched its payload into orbit? SpaceX will be using a new first stage for the manned mission, and they have experienced no failures on a new first stage like this for literally years.

In a sane society, NASA would look at the overall context, and put aside these issues as irrelevant to their launch schedule. They, and SpaceX, will want to figure out what happened, but they should insist on proceeding on schedule for the May launch.

We are no longer sane however. I will not be surprised if they announce a further launch delay.

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NASA to use private enterprise for space communications

Capitalism in space: NASA is now in the process of shifting from building its own communications satellites to communicate with ISS as well as many other Earth-orbiting NASA satellites to buying those services from the private sector, much as the agency has done with is cargo and crew ferrying service to the station.

This involves ground stations as well as upgrading its fleet of geosynchronous NASA-built TDRS satellites.

In addition, NASA is seeking industry assistance in replacing the Space Network, which provides communications for more than 40 missions including the International Space Station through government-owned Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and associated ground stations. “While the TDRS System is a fine investment that the government has made, for the future we are looking at commercial alternatives,” said Ted Sobchak, NASA Space Network project manager.

NASA plans a multistep campaign to encourage development of commercial space-based relay networks before the current TDRS spacecraft reach the end of their lives. “Based on past spacecraft performance, the newest generation of TDRS will remain operational well into the 2030s,” Younes said.

The original TDRS constellation of satellites, launched from 1983 to 1995, were actually built for a reasonable cost. At the time NASA did not try to put every bell and whistle on them, but focused instead on their basic mission and getting it launched for a reasonable cost. The management at NASA today almost certainly could not do this. Getting new satellites from competitive private companies will therefore save NASA money, and get the job done faster.

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Webb telescope further delayed by COVID-19

As part of its decision to shut down most of the agency’s operations due to fear of the COVID-19 virus, NASA’s has suspended all work on the James Webb Telescope, further delaying this much delayed space telescope.

The follow-on to the popular Hubble Space Telescope [Ed: a NASA lie that is not true], years late and billions over budget, it was on track for launch in March 2021, though some NASA officials were hinting there might be another delay. Today’s action almost certainly assures it. “The James Webb Space Telescope team … is suspending integration and testing operations. Decisions could be adjusted as the situation continues to unfold over the weekend and into next week. The decision was made to ensure the safety of the workforce. The observatory remains safe in its cleanroom environment.” — NASA

I must repeat this incessantly, as it appears too many modern space reporters are very ignorant about their own field. Webb is not a” follow-on to Hubble.” Astronomers made the decision in the late 1990s to build an infrared space telescope instead, which is what Webb is. For more than a decade they, and NASA, lied to the public about this, claiming Webb was a better version of Hubble, in order to garner support for building Webb.

I have been calling NASA on lie this since 2008, when I wrote The Universe in a Mirror, which I think eventually forced the agency to stop doing it. It is shameful however for a reporter now, in 2020, to still spread it.

As for Webb, this decision by NASA will certainly delay it again. The project is already fourteen years behind schedule, with its budget ballooning from $500 million to about $10 billion. All told, a perfect example of government in action.

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NASA considering shutting down Curiosity in 2021

Even as the space agency is about to launch a new rover to Mars, it is considering cutting operations for the rover Curiosity as well as considering shutting down its operation as soon as 2021.

Other ongoing missions are threatened by the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. “The FY21 budget that the president just recently submitted overall is extremely favorable for the Mars program, but available funding for extended mission longevity is limited,” [said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program].

That request would effectively end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and reduce the budget for Curiosity from $51.1 million in 2019 to $40 million in 2021, with no funding projected for that rover mission beyond 2021.

The penny-wise-pound-foolish nature of such a decision is breath-taking. Rather than continue, for relatively little cost, running a rover already in place on Mars, the agency will shut it down. And why? So they can initiate other Mars missions costing millions several times more money.

Some of the proposed cuts, such as ending the U.S. funding for Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, make sense. That orbiter has accomplished relatively little, and Europe should be paying for it anyway.

These decisions were announced during a live-stream NASA townhall that was originally to have occurred live at the cancelled Lunar & Planetary Science conference. I suspect its real goal is to garner support for more funding so that the agency will not only get funds for the new missions, it will be able to fund the functioning old ones as well.

Sadly, there would be plenty of money for NASA’s well-run planetary program if our Congress and NASA would stop wasting money on failed projects like Artemis.

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NASA shuts down all in-house work, suspending SLS/Orion testing

In its panicky response to COVID-19, NASA is now requiring all workers to work from home, forcing the agency to suspend all in-house testing of SLS and Orion hardware.

NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce.

This guarantees further delays to the first Artemis unmanned launch sometime in 2021. It also is par for the course for NASA’s entire effort to build this rocket. In just the past two weeks three different blistering inspector general reports have blasted different components of this project at NASA (overall management, construction of the launch systems, and development of software), proving that out-of-control cost overruns and endless delays in building SLS and Orion have been systemic throughout the agency.

Now they have shut down testing, even though the Wuhan virus is probably going to end up no more dangerous than the flu (now that treatment options exist).

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NASA’s inspector general finds more budget overruns at Artemis

A new report [pdf] released today from NASA’s inspector general has found more budget overruns and managerial issues relating to developing the ground software required by both Orion and SLS.

There are two software components involved, called SCCS and GFAS for brevity. This report focuses on the latter. A previous report found that “SCCS had significantly exceeded its initial cost and schedule estimates with development costs increasing approximately 77 percent and release of a fully operational version of the software slipping 14 months.” According to that previous report [pdf], that increase went from $117 million to $207 million.

As for GFAS:

Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned.

This report, as well as yesterday’s, are quite damning to the previous management of NASA’s manned program under Bill Gerstenmaier. It appears they could not get anything done on time and even close to their budget.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration has removed the reins from its inspector general offices. During the Obama administration I noticed a strong reticence in IG reports to criticize government operations. Problems as outlined in both yesterday’s and today’s reports would have been couched gently, to obscure how bad they were. Now the reports are more blunt, and are more clearly written.

Also, this sudden stream of releases outlining the problems in Artemis might be part of the Trump administration’s effort to shift from this government program to using private commercial companies. To do this however the administration needs Congressional support, which up to now has strongly favored funding SLS and Orion. Having these reports will strengthen the administration’s hand should it propose eliminating these programs, as it is now beginning to do with Gateway.

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Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden passes at 88

Their numbers slowly shrink: Al Worden, who orbited the Moon as commander of the Apollo 15 command module, has passed away at the age of 88.

For three days in 1971, Worden circled the moon as Dave Scott and Jim Irwin worked on the lunar surface — including driving a rover for the first time. Being a command module pilot has been called the loneliest job in humanity. In the spacecraft alone, not able to talk to anyone when the capsule was on the back side of the moon. But Worden told NPR in a 2016 interview, “I was pretty comfortable with being by myself.”

After Scott and Irwin returned from the lunar surface and the crew was on its way back home, Worden conducted a spacewalk, the first ever in deep-space. He ventured outside the capsule to retrieve film from the scientific cameras.

The link is to an NPR obituary, so of course it makes a big deal about the effort by the astronauts to make some extra money by selling postage stamp covers that they bought with them post-flight.

Worden remembers it this way, “Jim and I were told that this was something that happened on every flight. No big deal. Well, it turned out to be a huge deal.” Even though previous crews had profited off lunar souvenirs, it became a public relations nightmare for NASA. The three astronauts never flew again. Worden said he regretted what happened: “I think the flight speaks for itself. I think the science that we did on the flight speaks for itself.”

I always thought it was quite offensive that the American government, the press, NASA, and the public took offense then about this. These guys were not paid that much, slightly above an ordinary middle class salary, for doing something totally unique and incredibly dangerous. If they had a chance to make some extra cash on the side, all power to them.

This was just after the 1960s, however, and private enterprise and commercial profit was steadily going out of fashion. We as a culture had bought into the Soviet model of top-down government programs that were centrally controlled. For any of the individuals involved to make some independent cash for themselves was considered crass and corrupt.

Regardless, God speed, Al Worden.

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More overruns in NASA’s SLS program, this time with the mobile launchers

A new inspector general report [pdf] has found massive cost overruns in NASA over the building of the two mobile launch platforms the agency will use to launch its SLS rocket.

The original budget for the first mobile launch was supposed to be $234 million. NASA has now spent $927 million.

Worse, this platform will see limited use, as it was designed for the first smaller iteration of SLS, which NASA hopes to quickly replace with a more powerful version. Afterward it will become obsolete, replaced by the second mobile launch platform, now estimated to cost $486 million.

That’s about $1.5 billion just to build the launch platforms for SLS. That’s only a little less than SpaceX will spend to design, test, build, and launch its new Starship/Super Heavy rocket. And not only will Starship/Super Heavy be completely reusable, it will launch as much if not more payload into orbit as SLS.

But don’t worry. Our geniuses in Congress will continue to support SLS no matter the cost, even if it bankrupts NASA and prevents any real space exploration. They see its cost overruns, long delays, and inability to accomplish anything as a benefit, pumping money into their states and districts in order to buy votes.

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Gateway dropped from NASA lunar landing plans

According to the head of NASA’s manned program, the agency has revised its 2024 lunar landing plans so that the Lunar Gateway space station is no longer needed.

In a conversation with the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee March 13, Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said he had been working to “de-risk” the Artemis program to focus primarily on the mandatory activities needed to achieve the 2024 landing goal.

…Later in the half-hour session, he said that means taking the lunar Gateway off the critical path for the 2024 landing. That was in part because of what he deemed a “high possibility” of it falling behind schedule since it will use high-power solar electric propulsion in its first module, the Power and Propulsion Element. “From a physics perspective, I can guarantee you we do not need it for this launch,” he said of the Gateway.

Loverro added that he wasn’t cutting Gateway, only pushing it back in order to prioritize their effort in getting to the lunar surface more quickly.

The Trump administration has been slowly easing NASA away from Gateway, probably doing so slowly in order to avoid upsetting some people in Congress (Hi there Senator Shelby!). They have probably looked at the budget numbers, the schedule, and the technical obstacles that are all created by Gateway, and have realized that they either can go to the Moon, or build a dead-end space station in lunar orbit. They have chosen the former.

Someday a Gateway station will be needed and built. This is not the time. I pray the Trump administration can force this decision through Congress.

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New inspector general report slams NASA’s SLS management

A new report [pdf] by NASA’s inspector general released today harshly slams the management of NASA for the never-ending cost overruns and scheduling delays that have plagued the agency’s effort to build and launch the Space Launch System (SLS).

From the report’s introduction:

Based on our review of SLS Program cost reporting, we found that the Program exceeded its Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC)—that is, the cost and schedule baselines committed to Congress against which a program is measured—by at least 33 percent at the end of fiscal year 2019, a figure that could reach 43 percent or higher if additional delays push the launch date for Artemis I beyond November 2020.

… [T]he SLS Program now projects the Artemis I launch will be delayed to at least spring 2021 or later. Further, we found NASA’s ABC cost reporting only tracks Artemis I-related activities and not total SLS Program costs. Overall, by the end of fiscal year 2020, NASA will have spent more than $17 billion on the SLS Program—including almost $6 billion not tracked or reported as part of the ABC.

The graph below, taken from page 45 of the report, illustrates the management failures here quite starkly.
» Read more

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NASA dubs next Mars rover “Perseverance”

NASA today announced that they have named their next Mars rover, due to launch in July, “Perseverance.”

The name was announced Thursday by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Zurbuchen was at the school to congratulate seventh grader Alexander Mather, who submitted the winning entry to the agency’s “Name the Rover” essay contest, which received 28,000 entries fromK-12 students from every U.S. state and territory.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Zurbuchen. “Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today – processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”

I truly hope that the rover is well-named, and lives a very long life on Mars, long enough that it is still in use the day an human arrives to touch it again.

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Upgrades to Deep Space Network to block commands to Voyager 2

A scheduled eleven month upgrade to one of the three Deep Space Network antennas used to communicate with planetary missions will prevent scientists from sending commands to Voyager 2 during that time period.

Data will still be downloaded, but if anything should go wrong, such as happened in January, it will be impossible to do anything about it. In January engineers were able to troubleshoot the problem and upload corrections. During these upgrades a fix will have to wait. To reduce the chance of serious issue, engineers will put Voyager 2 into a more dormant state during this time period.

The repairs are essential however, even if it means we lose Voyager 2. This network must work for all the other Moon and Mars missions planned for the next few decades, and an upgrade has been desperately needed for years.

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SLS likely launch mid- to late-2021

According to comments by one NASA official last week, the first flight of SLS will likely not occur until the middle or late 2021, a further delay than the most recent prediction of April 2021.

NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said on Friday that the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft, Artemis I, will take place in mid-late 2021. He also said NASA will award contracts “within weeks” for the Human Landing System (HLS) as NASA strives to meet the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 — the Artemis program. Embracing Artemis is the first step towards a trillion dollar cislunar space economy according to space industry executive Tory Bruno who spoke at the same conference in Laurel, MD. He urged everyone to stop “squabbling” and support the program.

There is a lot more in the article, including a lot of advocacy by Jurczyk and others for Lunar Gateway. I also found certain aspects of the Trump administration’s effort to make their 2024 target date for manned lunar landing, specifically related to the quick development of that Human Landing System (HLS), somewhat concerning:

We can’t thrash on the requirements. So on HLS, we said 90 days, we’re going to nail down the requirements. And if we can’t agree, NASA’s just going to tell you, use ours. We’re going to negotiate technical standards. Either use ours or show equivalency to yours, but after 90 days if we can’t get agreement, you’re going to use ours. … 90 days and we’re done with Human Landing System requirements.

I am all for doing it fast but one needs to also do it smart. I wonder about this approach.

Jurczyk noted that the administration and NASA are doing a lot of work outlining their plans for the whole Artemis exploration program following that lunar landing, and hope to reveal it by the end of March. Since this program still remains unfunded by Congress, that announcement will be part of the political campaign to obtain those funds.

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Falcon Heavy wins launch contract for NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission

Capitalism in space: NASA today awarded the launch contract for its Psyche asteroid mission, set to launch in July 2022, to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

The total bid price was $117 million, which according to the release includes “the launch service and other mission related costs.” Though this is higher than the normal price SpaceX charges for a Falcon Heavy launch ($100 million), it is far lower than the typical price of a ULA launch. Furthermore, Falcon Heavy has more power, so it can get the spacecraft to the asteroid faster.

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More SLS launches planned/proposed?

According to this article from Ars Technica, NASA is considering shifting gears in its Artemis lunar program to become more dependent on SLS rather than a mix of SLS and commercial rockets.

The new plan, if implemented, would substantially cut commercially developed rockets—such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Glenn—back from the Artemis program. Previously, NASA had said it would launch elements of its Human Landing System on commercial rockets, because such vehicles cost much less than the estimated $2 billion rate per launch of the SLS vehicle. Now, perhaps, private rockets may be called upon to launch smaller pieces such as a lunar rover to the Moon’s surface.

The source document, which appears to be very preliminary and which NASA calls “inaccurate”, also calls for four SLS launches leading up to the 2024 lunar landing, something that seems very very unlikely. Not only would it require Boeing to move faster in building additional SLS rockets, something the company has routinely been unable to do, this schedule assumes funding from Congress for SLS, something that remains unclear.

It also appears from the proposed launch schedule that Lunar Gateway is fading from view. This makes great sense, as the Gateway only causes delays and higher costs for any lunar landing program, something the Trump administration clearly wishes to avoid.

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VIPER lunar rover delayed, NASA seeks new bids for delivering it to Moon

NASA earlier this week revealed that it is delaying the launch of its VIPER lunar rover until 2023, even as it announced that it is seeking new bids from commercial companies for delivering it to Moon.

In the past two months NASA has apparently been trying to reorganize its unmanned lunar exploration, resulting it a variety of puzzling and sometimes sudden shifts in policy and direction. First they announced they are going to issue a request for proposals, then they delayed it, then they issued it only to withdrew it one week later, with no explanation.

This week’s announcement is another attempt to release this request, accompanied by the delay in VIPER. Though NASA says the delay is to allow “for upgrades so that the rover can conduct longer and more exciting science on the Moon”, I think instead it is to simplify it so that the commercial companies will be able to launch and land it. VIPER’s heritage designs come from an earlier NASA rover project dubbed Resource Prospector that was cancelled because it was going to be too expensive and complex. I think the private companies building landers for such a rover told NASA that they couldn’t handle those heritage designs, forcing NASA to rethink.

If my suspicions are true, this is actually a very good sign. NASA is allowing the private sector to guide it in ways to save money and work more efficiently. That guidance might cause some initial delays as NASA shifts course, but in the long run it will make for a better run operation, costing less while accomplishing more.

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NASA leaning towards long-duration flight for 1st Dragon mission

Capitalism in space: According to one former astronaut as well as a review of photos of the training being given to the astronauts who will fly on SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight, this Space News article thinks that NASA will make that first flight a long-duration mission.

This Dragon demo mission is officially still planned as a short mission, no more than two weeks. To extend it requires additional training, which the photos appear to show, and would thus delay its launch by as yet an unspecified time period.

The article also cites a third reason NASA is now favoring the long-duration option: The issues with Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule:

Another factor in any decision to extend Demo-2 is the status of the other commercial crew vehicle, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. That vehicle flew an uncrewed test flight in December, but software problems during the flight, including one which shortened the mission and prevented a docking with the ISS, have raised questions about whether a second uncrewed test flight will be needed. An investigation into those problems is expected by the end of this month.

Even if NASA decides a second uncrewed test flight of Starliner is not needed, a review of all of the spacecraft’s one million lines of code, and other reviews, is likely to delay a crewed test flight of the spacecraft. NASA and Boeing had previously agreed to make that test flight a long-duration mission, with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson performing space station training in addition to that for the Starliner itself.

The delay in Boeing’s long duration mission leaves a gap in the schedule for maintaining crews on ISS. Flying Dragon long-duration would help solve that.

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First SLS launch pushed back again to April 2021

NASA on February 20, 2020 finally admitted that the first SLS launch cannot happen in 2020, and set a new target date no earlier than April 18, 2021.

The previous target launch date in November 2020 was always a pure fantasy. NASA just held off admitting it in order to defuse any political consequences for having a program, building SLS, that will end up taking them almost two decades to complete.

This new launch date is likely the most realistic so far, since the hardware for SLS is actually finally coming together. Nonetheless, if anything at all should go wrong along the way, especially with the full static test firing of the core booster of the first stage scheduled for no earlier than August, then expect more delays, possibly lasting years.

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Successful launch today of Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched it Cygnus unmanned cargo capsule on a supply mission to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first flight in 2020. The standings in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA
1 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 5 to 3 in the national rankings. The U.S. will likely add to that lead with the planned SpaceX launch of another 60 Starlink satellites Monday.

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Rocket Lab gets launch contract for lunar cubesat

Capitalism in space: NASA has awarded Rocket Lab the contract to launch the privately-built, for NASA, lunar orbiting cubesat CAPSTONE, designed to test technologies and the orbital mechanics required to build its Gateway lunar space station.

This quote says it all:

The firm-fixed-price launch contract is valued at $9.95 million. In September, NASA awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate the CubeSat.

Using two different private companies, one to build the satellite and the other to launch it, NASA will get a lunar orbiter for just over $23 million. That total equals the rounding error for almost all NASA-built projects.

The launch is set for early 2021.

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Dragon capsule for first manned mission shipped to Florida

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday shipped to Florida the Dragon capsule it will use for its first manned mission, now set for sometime between April and June.

No official word yet on any specific launch date, though there are reports that they are targeting May 7.

In that same story at the second link a NASA official admitted that one of the big issues is filling out the paperwork.

“Even though it sounds mundane, there is a load of paper that has to be verified, and signed off, and checked to make sure we’ve got everything closed out,” [said chief of human spaceflight Doug Loverro.] “It is probably one of the longest things in the tent to go ahead and do. It’s underappreciated but critically important. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do along the way.”

Properly documenting what you are doing is always essential, but if you over do it you raise costs unnecessarily while simultaneously delaying things. And isn’t it interesting that both of these issues — budget overruns and scheduling delays — have been systemic on all of NASA’s projects for decades?

Furthermore, while good documentation can help prevent problems and help you figure out what went wrong, when things go wrong, doing more of it will not further reduce problems or failures. If anything, too much paperwork will likely increase mistakes by focusing workers on the wrong things. This seems to be one of NASA’s problems in recent years.

Regardless, it does look like that first privately built launch will happen in mere months. The one decision remaining that could legitimately delay it would be if NASA decides to make it a longer mission, requiring more training for its astronauts.

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NASA breaks ground on new communications antenna

NASA has broken ground on the construction of the first new communications antenna since 2003 at its Goldstone, Californa, site, one of three the agency maintains worldwide for communicating with its planetary probes.

There has been a desperate need to both expand and upgrade this network, dubbed the Deep Space Network, for years, a need that will grow even more desperate next year with the addition of two more rovers on Mars.

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SpaceX hires Bill Gerstenmaier as consultant

SpaceX has hired NASA’s former manager of its human exploration program, Bill Gerstenmaier, as a consultant working with their “reliability team.”.

It appears that SpaceX wants to take advantage of Gerstenmaier’s expertise on human spaceflight as it is about to begin manned Dragon flights. It also appears that Musk wants to return a favor as well, as Gerstenmaier was likely the main person behind the decision to award SpaceX its initial Dragon cargo contract in December 2008. Musk has said repeatedly that this decision in many ways saved his company.

Overall, a wise decision by SpaceX. In his later years at NASA, Gerstenmaier lost sight of the importance of budget and schedule in his management of SLS and Orion, leading to his ouster. However, his knowledge of human spaceflight and the political mechanics needed to do it with NASA is unsurpassed. SpaceX will definitely benefit from this hire.

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NASA get boost in Trump proposed budget for 2021

The 2021 budget request by the Trump administration includes a big budget increase for NASA while also proposing major cuts to many of its science programs.

According to the analysis at the second link, the big gainer is Artemis. The losers in astronomy are the space telescope WFIRST and the airborne telescope SOFIA, both of which the administration wants terminated. Also on the chopping block are two climate satellites.

I plan to go through the budget in the next day or so and do my own analysis, which will also provide a longer term context that I guarantee no other news source will do. For example, routinely when most mainstream sources declare a cut in any program, it only means either a reduction in its growth rate, or a reduction to spending levels deemed entirely satisfactory only a few years before. To understand any new budget proposal, you need to look at the long term spending trends.

I will, as I have done in the past, also include more than just NASA in my analysis, reviewing the budget changes for all the science agencies.

I would do this today, but an eye doctor’s appointment this afternoon takes priority.

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The terrible consequences of NOAA’s data tampering

Link here.

In 2017 Tony Heller broke the story of how NOAA and NASA have been routinely adjusting their historic global temperature records to cool the past and warm the present in order to create the illusion that the climate is warming, far more than it is.

The post by Heller at the link above focuses in on how that tampering, which erased from the temperature data the record-hot year of 1934, is then used by both NOAA and NASA to claim each year for the past decade was the hottest ever.

The raw data however tells a far different story. The raw data from 1934, as reported amply at the time, recorded big heat waves and murderous droughts and extensive dust storms, all far more extreme than anything we have experienced in the past decade. Moreover, that raw data matches well with public news stories, and also matches well with all the published science prior to the 2000s.

Since then, however, intellectual honesty and the real scientific method has been replaced by an agenda-driven political manipulations. Having 1934 be the hottest year ever cannot stand, especially if present temperatures do not exceed that year’s records. Global warming demands a correction!

The nicest interpretation we can give to these adjustments is that the scientists are innocently engaged in confirmation bias. They believe the Earth is warming due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus they must find evidence of that warming, even if it requires data adjustments to past record-hot years like 1934, adjustments that they then rationalize as necessary and scientifically justified.

More likely, they have decided that their political agenda to prove human-caused global warming requires them to be intellectually dishonest and the falsify the global temperature record. If so, this is a tragedy beyond words, as it signals that the revolution in human thought that began with the Renaissance and Galileo and was reinforced and cemented by the Enlightenment and Francis Bacon, has now ended.

That revolution made possible a burst of human creativity and civilization that lasted more than five hundred years. The consequences for future generations should that revolution be rejected now cannot be good.

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ULA’s Atlas 5 launches Solar Orbiter

Capitalism in space: ULA tonight successfully launched a new solar science spacecraft Solar Orbiter.

For more information about Solar Orbiter, which will take the first high resolution images of the Sun’s poles, see the link above or video I’ve embedded below the fold.

Earlier today Northrop Grumman aborted the launch of its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS only three minutes before launch because of an issue with a ground support sensor. Right now they are are targeting a new launch date of February 13, 2020.

The status in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA

In the national ranking, the U.S. now leads China 4-3. If Northrop Grumman had launched, that lead would have been 5-3, and the U.S. total would have been comprised of four different and completely independent competing launch companies, all capable of topping the efforts of entire nations. If that doesn’t illustrate the power of freedom, capitalism, competition, and private ownership, I don’t know what does. Moreover, this is only the start. The U.S. right now has numerous other new launch companies rushing to join the competition.

Even more startling, the way we do things is freely available to every other nation in the world. All they have to do is to embrace freedom and the reduction of control and power by their governments. Sadly, very few in these times are willing to do this. In fact, even the U.S. resisted this concept for the entire last half of the 20th century. Only in the past decade have we returned to our roots, and that decision is now beginning to bear abundant fruit.
» Read more

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NASA confirms seriousness of 2nd Starliner software issue

At a press conference today, NASA and Boeing officials confirmed the rumors that there was a second software error during Starliner’s unmanned demo mission in December that might have caused a serious failure had it not been caught on time.

[After the first software error], engineers began reviewing other critical software sequences as a precaution and discovered yet another problem. Software used to control thruster firings needed to safely jettison the Starliner’s service module just before re-entry was mis-configured, set for the wrong phase of flight.

Had the problem not been found and corrected, the cylindrical service module’s thrusters could have fired in the wrong sequence, driving it back into the crew module and possibly triggering a tumble or even damaging the ship’s protective heat shield.

While a detailed analysis was not carried out at the time, “nothing good can come from those two spacecraft bumping back into one another,” said Jim Chilton, a senior vice president for Boeing Space and Launch.

That two different software errors were not caught prior to flight has NASA demanding a complete review of Boeing’s quality control systems. And NASA here is correct. Boeing as a company appears to have fundamental quality control issues up and down the line, in all its projects. A complete review appears warranted.

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NASA delays commercial bidding process for its unmanned lunar landers

Capitalsm in space: NASA has postponed the bidding process for both the commercially-built lander that will bring its its VIPER lunar rover as well as the smaller landers that will bring simpler science packages to the Moon.

In the first case, it appears that the commercial companies wanted more time because VIPER is a heavier and bigger payload than their landers are currently designed for. In the second case, the reasons for the postponement are less clear, leaving the companies involved somewhat puzzled and in the dark.

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