Space officials, from in and out of NASA, meet to plan Biden administration space policy

A group of senior space officials from both inside and outside of NASA held a closed door “war game” on October 20th, designed to plan out what they thought should be the space policy of the Biden administration.

About a dozen officials participated. Attendees included two former astronauts, Charlie Bolden and Pam Melroy, who have worked in space policy since their retirements. Bolden was NASA administrator under President Obama. Also participating were two former senior NASA officials—Mike French, chief of staff under Bolden, and Doug Loverro, a chief of human spaceflight for the Trump administration. Loverro was forced to step down in February and is now under investigation for improper contact with Boeing. The meeting also had participation from industry, including entrepreneur Rick Tumlinson and Marc Berkowitz of Lockheed Martin.

They claim that this is not at the behest of the Biden campaign, but what I see is a group of high-level bureaucrats from Washington gathering together to plan space policy strategy for Biden, with the expectation that should he win they will be well placed to inaugurate his policy for him.

The article did not name all the participants, but if any are presently working in the Trump administration or in NASA their participation in this “war game” was highly inappropriate. It is not their place to set policy, only to implement the policy determined by the elected president now in office.

Should Trump win on November 3rd, the attendance list of participants will thus provide a good guide on who not to hire, as well as who to fire should Trump’s new looser policy on hiring and firing take effect. These individuals have now signaled their partisan loyalties, and it isn’t with Trump or the Republicans. If any are part of his administration now they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, likely acting against his interests when no one is looking.

On this topic, I just bought this book “The Memo: 20 Years Inside the Deep State Fighting for America First,” based on this review, which states:

Higgins’ new book, “The Memo: 20 Years Inside the Deep State Fighting for America First,” is an eye-opening and unique book for a political memoir. It is not heavy on political wonkiness, policymaking stratagems, and personal vendettas typical of Washington, DC tell-alls. It is a refreshingly direct tale of a talented young man’s rise from the enlisted ranks of the military into politics and then policy-making, only to discover the realities of a brutal and seditious opposition fighting to preserve a decrepit, America-destroying agenda that culminated in an outrageous coup attempt against a U.S. president.

And while Higgins does “name names” in his book, when describing the subversion of the Trump agenda by those inimical to it, he does so only to drive home his larger point about the incredible obstacles President Trump has faced in orienting U.S. policies toward advancing his America-first agenda.

Seems very apropos at this moment in time.

Sample grab appears to be a success at Bennu

OSIRIS-REx has apparently successfully touched the surface of Bennu, grabbed a sample, and backed away without damage.

The link takes you to my embed of NASA’s live stream, which is mostly pr garbage. However, it is providing live updates from the mission control team, as it happens. Most of time, the NASA people running their pr effort even have the sense to shut up when such updates come it.

Right now we do not know how much of a sample was obtained. It will take some analysis of data and images to find out. They will know by the time of tomorrow’s press conference at 5 pm (Eastern).

First full static fire test of SLS’s core stage scheduled for November 14

NASA has now scheduled the first full static fire test of the core stage of its SLS rockt for no earlier than November 14th.

Currently installed in the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the massive 212-foot-tall core stage has completed six of eight planned green run tests before it can be shipped to KSC by barge as the final piece of the first mission of the Artemis program, slated for launch in November 2021.

Officials with NASA as well as contractors Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne gave an update on the core stage progress on Tuesday, stating the tentative date for the hot fire test is Nov. 14, and the target for it to be loaded onto the Pegasus barge for the trip to Florida is Jan. 14.

“So far the design has held together extremely well. We’ve not really had any surprises,” said John Shannon, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for the Space Launch System.

Unlike SpaceX, which uses tests like this to figure out how to build its rockets, NASA uses these tests to confirm its designs and construction at the very end of development. This difference in approach, now so clearly illustrated by simultaneous tests going on from both, I think shows the advantages of SpaceX’s approach. By testing during development, SpaceX can quickly fix any problems it finds, and move forward fast with better designs. This approach also results in a less expensive final result.

NASA instead must make sure its designs are perfect on the drafting board, which therefore requires their engineers to include gigantic design margins, resulting in long construction schedules and an expensive final product. Worst of all, should SLS fail during this final test, NASA will face some very difficult and expensive choices, none good.

NASA awards $370 million to 14 companies to develop new space capabilities

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday issued fifteen development contracts to fourteen private space companies, totaling $370 million, to help them develop a variety of new space capabilities.

The funding is spread across 15 contracts to 14 different companies, including SpaceX, Astrobotic, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and Intuitive Machines.

Nearly 70% of the money is earmarked for the management of cryogenic fluids such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. SpaceX, for example, will get $53 million for an in-space demonstration that will transfer 11 tons (10 metric tons) of liquid oxygen between tanks on one of its next-gen Starship vehicles.

What makes these contracts different from past NASA development contracts is fundamental. First, the design work comes from the companies, not NASA. Therefore products will be designed with the company’s needs in mind, not the government’s, and will also likely be designed faster and more efficiently.

Second, the companies will own what they build, and will be able to sell or use it however they wish. SpaceX for example wants this capability to give Starship the ability to leave Earth orbit, for its own commercial flights.

Russia oxygen regeneration system on ISS fails

Russian new sources today reported that their oxygen regeneration system on the ISS module Zvezda has failed.

A Russian cosmonaut told a specialist from the Mission Control Centre in the Moscow Region that the Electron-VM OGS installed in the Russian Zvezda module had failed.

Essentially this information was overheard by Russian sources during communications between mission control and the Russians on-board ISS.

Whether this failure is related to the rise in temperature this week in Zvezda is unknown. Also, the failed unit itself might be one that came with the station when it was launched 20 years ago, or it might be an upgraded unit launched later.

This unit is designed to recycle oxygen on board so as to reduce the need to haul up new supplies. Its failure poses no immediate threat to the station or its crew, since there is plenty of oxygen store on board and the U.S. has its own regeneration unit. However, if it isn’t repairable and can’t be replaced quickly it likely means future cargo manifests will require larger stocks of oxygen. It also might mean a reduction in total crew on ISS, which only now is returning to more than three for long periods because of the initiation of American private ferrying serves.

Meanwhile the location of the leak on Zvezda remains unknown. It needs to be pinpointed and hopefully solved, because if it is a more serious age issue ISS managers need to know.

Juno science team proposes fly-bys of Jupiter’s moons

The Juno science team has proposed doing fly-bys of three of Jupiter’s moons, should NASA extend the mission beyond ’21.

Juno’s five-year primary mission phase ends in July 2021, and mission managers have proposed an extension that would continue operations until September 2025. The spacecraft’s additional orbits around Jupiter will bring Juno closer to the planet’s moons, allowing for a more diversified set of scientific targets.

…The moon flybys would begin in mid-2021 with an encounter with Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, at a distance of roughly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), according to Bolton.

After a series of distant passes, Juno would swoop just 200 miles (320 kilometers) above Europa in late 2022 for a high-speed flyby. Only NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which ended its mission in 2003, has come closer to Europa.

There are two encounters with Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io planned in 2024 at distances of about 900 miles (1,500 kilometers), according to the flight plan presented by Bolton last month.

The extended mission would also allow scientists to get a better look at Jupiter’s north pole.

NASA will decide on the extension by the end of the year. From a cost and scientific perspective, it makes perfect sense to extend this mission for as long as possible. Compared to launching a new mission, extending an active one is far cheaper. It is also already in place.

Leak search on ISS narrows further

Further work on ISS by the astronauts has now narrowed the location of the station’s long-term slow leak to the aft area of the Russian Zvezda module.

As of Monday, the station crew had not located the precise site of the leak, but officials believe they have traced it to a transfer compartment at the rear section of the Zvezda module, near an aft docking port where a Russian Progress resupply freighter is attached.

The rate of leak continues to be slow and thus not any danger to the crew. It is also a concern, as it could become a safety issue should it increase. They want to find it and patch it. Furthermore, Zvezda is ISS’s second oldest module, launched in 2000. If this leak is a sign of that age is even more essential to know.

Two launches scheduled for tonight, 27 minutes apart

The numerous launch scrubs this past week has created an unprecedented situation tonight, two orbital launches scheduled only 27 minutes apart from two different East Coast spaceports.

First Northrop Grumman will try again to launch its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS from Wallops Island, Virginia, with the launch scheduled for 9:12 pm (Eastern). The first launch attempt last night was aborted 2:21 seconds before liftoff “after receiving off-nominal data from ground support equipment.”

Second, SpaceX will try to launch two Air Force GPS satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the launch scheduled for 9:43 pm (Eastern). This launch has been delayed several times because of the repeated launch scrubs of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy rocket, attempting to launch a military reconnaissance satellite. ULA’s launch had priority for the range, but with it delayed due to the investigation over the T-7 second launch abort on September 30th, the SpaceX’s GPS launch moves up in line.

The first will be live streamed on NASA TV, the second by SpaceX. I have embedded the live streams for both below the fold.
» Read more

Leak on ISS located?

According to Business Insider article , engineers have finally narrowed the location of the slow leak on ISS to the Russian Zvezda module.

NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, had already narrowed down the likely location of the leak to several modules on the station’s Russian side.

So astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner tested those modules by shutting the hatches between each one and using an ultrasonic leak detector to collect data through the night. The tool measures noise caused by airflow too quiet for humans to hear.

By Tuesday morning, they’d figured out that the leak is in the Zvezda Service Module, the main module on the station’s Russian side. Zvezda provides that half of the station with oxygen and drinkable water, and it’s also equipped with a machine that scrubs carbon dioxide from the air. The module contains the section’s sleeping quarters, dining room, refrigerator, freezer, and bathroom.

They don’t yet know where in the module the leak is located, but at least they know at last where to look.

This module was the second module launched to ISS, launching in 2000. Thus, the leak could not have come from any construction workers from the ground. More likely its age has resulted in something changing. This needs to be fixed, but at the moment the situation is not critical.

NASA & SpaceX set Oct 31st for next manned Dragon mission

Capitalism in space: NASA and SpaceX have now scheduled Oct 31st as the target launch date for the first operational manned Dragon mission to ISS, the second manned Dragon mission overall.

This new date delays the launch a week from the previous announced schedule, and was done to give some space between its launch and the launch of a manned Soyuz on October 14th and the return of a different Soyuz with the present ISS crew on October 21st.

Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA finalizing first wholly private manned mission

Capitalism in space: Axiom, SpaceX, and NASA are close to finalizing the deal for the first wholly private manned mission to ISS, tentatively set for October 2021.

One of the topics Axiom is negotiating with NASA involves how much insight the space agency will have into the private astronaut mission. While the Axiom missions will be managed by commercial companies, the AX-1 flight will fly with a reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts on other missions. “There’s a certain amount of insight (NASA) would like on our flight, on a commercial flight,” [Axiom official] Suffredini said Friday. “So that is one aspect of that process. We’re using a vehicle that is going to be re-flown, and NASA will certify the re-flights because they want to do re-flights.”

Axiom and SpaceX will also have to confirm a schedule with NASA for the AX-1 mission to dock with the space station. The orbiting research complex has a busy schedule of arriving and departing crew and cargo vehicles, and managers also have slot in spacecraft dockings amid spacewalks, experiments, and other critical operations.

NASA also oversees safety of the space station with the program’s international partners.

The private companies however will in the end be responsible for the flight.

There have been rumors that the passengers on this flight will be Tom Cruise and his film director, though this is not confirmed. Also, these same arrangements will be used for the tentative 2023 private flight of the winner of a proposed reality television show dubbed Space Hero.

NASA lays out Artemis budget and plan to get astronauts to Moon

In a obvious lobbying effort to get Congress to fund the Trump administration’s Artemis project to land humans on the Moon by 2024, NASA yesterday released a new updated plan and budget for the program.

More here.

The document [pdf] outlines the specific plans for each of the first three Artemis flights, with the first unmanned, the second manned and designed to fly around the Moon, and the third to land a man and a woman on the Moon. Overall the plan is budgeted at about $28 billion, with $3.2 billion needed immediately to fund construction of the lunar lander. From the second link:

Bridenstine said he remains optimistic Congress will fully fund lander development because of what he described as broad bipartisan support for the Artemis program. He said he’s hopeful an expected continuing resolution that would freeze NASA’s budget at last year’s spending levels will be resolved in an “omnibus” spending bill before Christmas or, if the CR is extended, by early spring. “It is critically important that we get that $3.2 billion,” he said. “And I think that if we can have that done before Christmas, we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing. … If we go beyond March, and we still don’t have the human landing system funded, it becomes increasingly more difficult.”

And what happens then?

“It’s really simple. If Congress doesn’t fund the moon landing program, then it won’t be achieved (in 2024), I mean it’s really that simple,” Bridenstine said. But he quickly added: “I want to be clear, if they push the funding off, our goal will be to get to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

I remain doubtful the present Congress, with the House controlled by the Democrats, will fund this 2024 lunar landing. Since 2016 the entire political platform of the Democratic Party has been “oppose anything Trump.” They will not fund this project if it means he will get this landing during his second term.

If however Trump loses in November, the lame duck Congress might then go ahead and fund it before December, since the landing in 2024 will then occur during the Biden presidency.

Technically the plan reveals that NASA is trying to accelerate the development of the rendezvous and docking software for Orion. During the second flight, the first manned, the crew will do proximity maneuvers with the upper stage of the rocket. Under previous management NASA had not included this ability, as they had not planned to have Orion do any rendezvouses or dockings. That lack makes it impossible for Orion to fly on any other rocket but SLS. This change means the Trump administration recognizes this is a problem, and wants to fix it, especially because they also recognize that SLS is a poor long term option for future lunar missions.

UAE to train astronauts at NASA

The United Arab Emirates has signed an agreement with NASA to train its two future astronauts to ISS.

UAE astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi have already begun their training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston starting Monday, Salem AlMarri, head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), said during a media briefing. AlMansoori and AlNeyadi had earlier trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Moscow, in September 2018 as part of their preparation for their launch to the ISS.

The two men will be launched to ISS by Russia using its Soyuz rocket and capsule. However, the UAE is smart to get them training in the U.S., as they need to work with U.S. mission control and U.S. systems on ISS. Moreover, I expect the UAE might wish to buy tickets eventually on either Dragon or Starliner, and this training lays the groundwork for that possibility.

First manned Artemis Moon mission might not go to south pole

In order to meet the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline for the first Artemis manned lunar landing, NASA is now considering sending that first mission to an equatorial target, rather than the Moon’s south pole.

The Artemis program landing site issue came up at two separate events with agency leaders this week, beginning with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s comments to open a digital meeting held by a NASA advisory group called the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, on Monday (Sept. 14).

“For the first mission, Artemis 3, our objective is to get to the south pole,” Bridenstine said. “But … it would not surprise me if, for example, if we made a determination that the south pole might be out of reach for Artemis 3, which I’m not saying it is or isn’t,” interest in the Apollo sites may win out.

The engineering to get to the polar regions is more challenging, so rather than delay that first mission they are considering simplifying it instead.

The fact remains that Congress has still not funded any Artemis missions beyond the first unmanned and first manned flights, neither of which will land on the Moon. Whether that money will ever be forthcoming really depends entirely on the November election, as well as the success or failure of the upcoming full-up static fire engine test of the SLS first stage.

NASA reorganizes its manned space bureaucracy

Gotta rearrange those deck chairs! NASA has finally completed a long-planned reorganization of its manned space bureaucracy, first begun several years ago.

At a Sept. 16 Washington Space Business Roundtable webinar, Kathy Lueders, who took over as NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations three months ago, said that NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk formally approved a reorganization of her mission directorate the previous day. “It addressed some of the concerns that folks have had and is really getting us set up for our future missions going forward,” she said of the reorganization.

Those concerns include findings from a review called a Program Status Assessment carried out earlier this year. That review cited issues with system engineering oversight for the Artemis program and a lack of a formal Artemis program organization. “We are also using these adjustments to solidify and better define division roles,” the agency said in a statement to SpaceNews.

NASA does this Potemkin-type reorganization about once every decade or so, with little major effect other than to allow the upper management preen itself as it makes believe it has accomplished something. This particular rearrangement however might be a bit more beneficial that past ones, in that it appears aimed at aligning the agency’s bureaucracy with its new status of being a customer of the private sector, rather than its boss and overseer.

NASA to buy lunar mined material from private companies

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced that, rather than develop its own lunar sample missions, it wants to buy such lunar mined material obtained from private companies.

NASA on Thursday launched an effort to pay companies to mine resources on the moon, announcing it would buy from them rocks, dirt and other lunar materials as the U.S. space agency seeks to spur private extraction of coveted off-world resources for its use.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a blog post accompanying the announcement that the plans would not violate a 1967 treaty that holds that celestial bodies and space are exempt from national claims of ownership.

The initiative, targeting companies that plan to send robots to mine lunar resources, is part of NASA’s goal of setting what Bridenstine called “norms of behavior” in space and allowing private mining on the moon in ways that could help sustain future astronaut missions. NASA said it views the mined resources as the property of the company, and the materials would become “the sole property of NASA” after purchase.

This announcement continues NASA’s transition under the Trump administration from trying to run everything to simply being a customer buying what it needs and wants from the private sector. The idea is smart, as it will guarantee that these samples will be obtained in the cheapest and fastest way possible, while simultaneously sparking the development of a competitive and thriving private industry capable of flying all kinds of planetary missions. The lower costs of these private planetary probes will in turn will spark the creation of a new private sector of customers buying those probes for their own profit-centered needs.

Boeing strikes deal to avoid harsher ethics probe in NASA’s lunar lander scandal

Boeing has struck a deal with both NASA and the Air Force in order to avoid a harsher and more extensive ethics probe into its part in the NASA lunar lander contract bidding scandal.

The agreement, signed in August, comes as federal prosecutors continue a criminal investigation into whether NASA’s former human exploration chief, Doug Loverro, improperly guided Boeing space executive Jim Chilton during the contract bidding process.

By agreeing to the “Compliance Program Enhancements”, the aerospace heavyweight staves off harsher consequences from NASA and the Air Force – its space division’s top customers – such as being suspended or debarred from bidding on future space contracts. The agreement calls for Boeing to pay a “third party expert” to assess its ethics and compliance programs and review training procedures for executives who liaise with government officials, citing “concerns related to procurement integrity” during NASA’s Human Landing System competition.

Since Loverro resigned in May, Boeing has fired one company attorney and a group of mid-level employees, three people familiar with the actions told Reuters.

The deal seems like a bureaucratic whitewash, designed to take the heat off the company. And since Boeing as a company has many problems, I remain skeptical that any of this will make a difference in getting things fixed.

NASA solicits lunar landers to bid on bringing science instruments to Moon

UPDATE: It appears I misunderstood the nature of this NASA solicitation in my initial post. I have rewritten it to correct it. Hat tip reader Rex Ridenoure.

Capitalism in space: NASA has issued a request from the private companies building unmanned lunar landers to bid on carrying a variety of science instruments to the Moon by ’23.

Initially NASA had indicated it was farming out the design and construction of the lunar landers to private companies, but would have the science instruments designed and built in-house. Since ’19 however NASA has had private companies designing and building these fourteen small science payloads, and is now in the process of determining which private landers will bring them to the Moon.

Though this approach is not very different than past NASA arrangements, what is different is NASA’s public approach. Instead of touting NASA’s part in this work, the agency is touting the work of the private companies.

Northrop Grumman successfully tests SLS solid rocket booster

Northrop Grumman yesterday successfully test fired a solid rocket booster to confirm its design for use on NASA’s long-delayed and overbudget SLS rocket.

The test, completed at the T97 test area at Northrop Grumman‘s facility in Promontory, Utah, took place on Wednesday, September 2, 2020, at 1:05 PM Mountain Daylight Time (19:05 UTC). A single five-segment SLS solid rocket motor with a thrust of up to 3.6 million pounds was ignited, and burned for approximately two minutes.

The booster is an expanded version of the solid rocket boosters used on the space shuttle, with five segments instead of four, and in fact will use previously flown segments from past shuttle launches. Since this booster will not be recovered, these launches will be the last time those segments fly.

SpaceX wins launch contract for unmanned lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Masten Space Systems has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its unmanned lunar lander, being built to carry nine NASA science payloads to the south pole of the Moon.

Launch is tentatively scheduled for late ’22.

NASA will be an anchor customer for the mission but Masten intends to sign up others. “There is a tremendous amount of interest,” he said, including from both the public and private sector, although he didn’t mention any specific potential customers.

Mahoney said the level of customer interest soared after Masten won the CLPS award and had a firm schedule for the mission. “Once the CLPS award was made and we crossed from speculative to having a schedule, the tenor and tone of our conversations have changed dramatically.”

The limiting factor for the lander mission has not been the amount of mass available for payloads, he said, but instead positions on the lander that have views of the surface desired by payloads. “There’s a game of positioning among the various instruments so that they can get the view angles that they need and not interfere,” he said.

However, he said the company isn’t considering major changes in the lander’s design to accommodate payloads. “The design principle is the ‘pickup truck’ that can haul a bunch of different things,” he said. “We’re trying to escape the completely unique, bespoke system that does one job and one mission really well.”

I guarantee that at least one university student-built payload will end up on the lander.

Skylab astronaut Gerry Carr passes away at 88

R.I.P. Gerry Carr, the commander of the last and longest Skylab mission in the 1970s, has passed away at 88.

Carr’s first and only spaceflight was as the commander of Skylab 4 (also referred to as SL-4 or “Skylab 3” as appeared on the crew’s mission patch). The third of three crewed stays of increasing duration aboard the orbital workshop, Carr and his Skylab 4 crewmates, Ed Gibson and William “Bill” Pogue, set what was then a record spending 84 days in space.

“We proved, I think, just absolutely, positively that the human being can live in weightless environment for an extended period of time,” Carr said during a NASA oral history interview in October 2000. “But medically, we gathered the data that I think gave the Russians and other people the understanding and the courage to say, ‘Okay, we can stay up for longer periods of time.'”

The obituary at the link includes Carr’s lifelong effort to explain that the crew never “mutinied,” as the press has tried to say for decades. Instead, they spent days and repeated long communications with mission control trying to get it to understand that the crew was being overworked because NASA was micro-managing their workload from the ground. They finally made mission control recognize this, after a long public conversation. Sadly, NASA had to relearn this lesson again in the 1990s during its first long missions on the Russian Mir space station (See chapters 3 and 12 in Leaving Earth).

NASA/Boeing set summer ’21 for first manned Starliner mission

Capitalism in space: NASA and Boeing have tentatively scheduled the launch of the first manned Starliner mission to ISS for the summer of 2021.

Boeing Co said on Tuesday it aims to redo its unmanned Starliner crew capsule flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) in December or January, depending on when it completes software and test hardware production development.

If the test mission is successful, Boeing and NASA will fly Starliner’s first crewed mission in summer 2021, with a post-certification mission roughly scheduled for the following winter, the company added.

Everything of course depends on the success of the unmanned demo flight. If the capsule has any further problems, as it did on its first unmanned demo flight, the manned flight will likely be delayed again.

Another professor arrested for lying about ties to China

This is beginning to be a weekly event: Today another professor, this time from Texas A&M, was arrested for lying in grant applications by not disclosing his university affiliations in China.

Professor Zhengdong Cheng, 53, is charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud. Cheng led a team conducting research for NASA while secretly working with China, according to federal investigators.

“Dr. Cheng is accused of hiding his affiliation with the Guangdong University of Technology, along with other foreign universities, while disregarding the rules established under his NASA contract during his employment at TAMU,” said FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner.

More and more it looks to me as if China cannot invent anything themselves, only update what they steal.

Another SLS screw-up related to Europa Clipper

Despite being required for years by a legal congressional mandate to use SLS to launch Europa Clipper to the moon of Jupiter, NASA engineers have suddenly discovered unspecified “compatibility issues” that might make use of the rocket problematic.

At an Aug. 17 meeting of NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said the Europa Clipper mission had recently discovered compatibility issues involving the Space Launch System, the vehicle preferred by Congress to launch the spacecraft. “There have been some issues that have been uncovered just recently,” she said of the use of SLS for Europa Clipper. “We are in a lot of conversations right now with human exploration and others within the agency about what kind of steps we can take going forward.”

She did not elaborate on the compatibility issues regarding SLS. Such issues, industry sources say, likely involve the environment the spacecraft would experience during launch, such as vibrations. That environment would be very different for Europa Clipper, a relatively small spacecraft encapsulated within a payload fairing, than for the Orion spacecraft that will be the payload for most SLS launches.

“We are currently working to identify and resolve potential hardware compatibility issues and will have more information once a full analysis has been conducted,” NASA spokesperson Alana Johnson said in an Aug. 18 statement to SpaceNews. “Preliminary analysis suggests that launching Clipper may require special hardware adjustments, depending on the launch vehicle.”

This is a joke. It is also absurd and disgusting. Finally, it is also par for the course for NASA and all of today’s government, at all levels. They can’t do anything competently. From the beginning Europa Clipper was mandated to fly on SLS. And yet, they didn’t design the two to be compatible?

Based on this example we should of course demand that the government and these bureaucrats be given more power and more control over our lives. Of course.

Criminal investigation begun against former NASA manned program head

The U.S. Attorney’s office for DC has opened a criminal investigation into actions taken by Doug Loverro, the former head of NASA’s manned program, during contract bidding for a NASA lunar lander project.

The grand jury investigation concerns communications between Doug Loverro, then the chief of human spaceflight for NASA, and Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division. These discussions occurred early this year, during a blackout period when NASA was taking bids to construct a Human Landing System for the Artemis Moon Program. It is not permissible to interfere with a competition for government contracts.

“Mr. Loverro, who wasn’t part of NASA’s official contracting staff, informed Mr.Chilton that the Chicago aerospace giant was about to be eliminated from the competition based on cost and technical evaluations,” the report states, citing unidentified sources. “Within days, Boeing submitted a revised proposal.”

The analysis at the link is excellent. Read it all.

NASA targets October 23rd for next manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: NASA and SpaceX yesterday announced that they have now set October 23rd as the earliest launch date for next manned Dragon flight.

The mission will carry Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, all of NASA, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi for a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory following launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

They had previously said they were aiming for a late September launch, but this extra delay allows them to better coordinate with other traffic to and from ISS, while also giving them an extra month to review the data from the first manned flight, just completed.

Endeavour at Cape, being prepped for next flight

Capitalism in space: Endeavour, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule that was the first to fly two astronauts to ISS, has now arrived at the company’s facility at Cape Canaveral, where it will be inspected, refurbished, and prepped for its next manned flight in the the spring of 2021.

SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral will remove the exterior panels from the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and begin inspections to assess how the spacecraft weathered its 64-day space mission, according to Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management. “We want to make sure that we kind of dig deep and understand everything that’s gone on with this vehicle, make sure we’re really ready to go, and then do some of the aspects of the refurbishment,” Reed said. “There are some things that we will replace, some things that are standardly replaced, some things that we want to upgrade based on lessons learned, or that were already planned in work.”

SpaceX will still need to build a new trunk for each Crew Dragon mission. The trunk is an unpressurized module mounted to the rear of the Crew Dragon capsule, providing electrical power with solar arrays, and radiators to maintain steady temperatures inside the spaceship.

I guarantee the company will use what it learns in this inspection to improve later Dragon manned capsules. Right now they plan on from 5 to 10 flights per capsule. Since their contract right now only calls for six flights, that likely means the company only needs to build at most three to cover this NASA contract. However, NASA is certain to extend that contract, since six flights will only cover about two to three years, and ISS will be manned longer than that. Moreover, SpaceX has at least two tourist flights booked, so that calls for additional capsules as well.

Either way, we must shift our thinking. These might only be Dragon capsules, but they each get a name because each will fly more than once. It is thus appropriate to use that name instead of just calling them Dragon.

NASA announces third Dragon flight crew

NASA today announced four-person Dragon flight crew for that spacecraft’s third flight in the spring, the second official operational flight.

NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough will join JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet on that flight, which will follow Crew-1 currently scheduled for sometime in late September after Demo-2 concludes. This is a regular mission, meaning the crew will be staffing the International Space Station for an extended period – six months for this stretch, sharing the orbital research platform with three astronauts who will be using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make the trip.

Pesquet will be the first European to fly on Dragon. McArthur however is more interesting, in that this will be her first spaceflight in more than a decade. She had previously flown only once before, in 2009 on the last Hubble repair mission. She is also the wife of Bob Behnken, who is on ISS right now having flown on the first Dragon manned mission now preparing for its return to Earth on August 2nd.

The long gap in flights was certainly due to the shuttle’s retirement. Why she didn’t fly on a Soyuz is a question some reporter should ask her at some point.

NASA’s safety panel expresses concerns about Starliner

My heart be still: During a teleconference yesterday, members of NASA’s safety panel expressed concerns about Boeing’s Starliner capsule while cautiously and very tentatively endorsing SpaceX’s intention to launch future manned missions with reused Falcon 9 first stages and reused Dragon capsules.

I consider this safety panel worse than useless. For example, based on this news report, they appear to have had little involvement in the NASA/Boeing investigation into the issues that caused the premature de-orbit of first unmanned orbital test flight of Starliner. Instead, it appears they have simply reviewed that investigation, and are now just kibbitzing from the sidelines.

Of course NASA should be concerned about the 80 issues it found, mostly involving software. No one needs this safety panel to tell the agency this.

Meanwhile, the panel’s tentative support for reusing Falcon 9 boosters and Dragon capsules is merely a rubberstamp of already decided NASA policy, and also illustrates the panel’s uselessness. This safety panel spent the last five years blasting everything SpaceX was doing (causing many delays), while literally missing the real elephant in the room, Boeing’s own quality control issues.

It appears to me that NASA is very gently and quietly making the safety panel irrelevant to its operations. Even better would be to disband it entirely. It serves no purpose other than to delay and block future exploration, sometimes foolishly.

Dragon update for the ongoing and next mission

Two stories today provide an update of the overall schedule and status of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, both now and into the future.

First, they are preparing for the return of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from ISS on August 2nd. Prior to return they will use the station’s robot arm to inspect the capsule’s heat shield to make sure it did not sustain any damage during its two months in space. Such inspections will be standard procedure on future flights, something NASA did not do on shuttle flights until after the Columbia failure.

It is unlikely there is any damage, but making this inspection is plain common sense. If the heat shield has been damaged, the astronauts can stay on board ISS until the next Dragon arrives, which can then bring them home.

Second, NASA and SpaceX have worked out a tentative schedule for that next Dragon manned launch, now set for sometime in late September. The agency wants a bit of time to review the full results of the first demo mission before flying a second.

Based on all that has happened so far, it now appears unlikely that the agency will find anything that prevents that late September flight.

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