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GAO Anticipates First SLS Launch Date In 2021

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2019 9:55 AM.

GAO: Human Space Exploration: Persistent Delays and Cost Growth Reinforce Concerns over Management of Programs

"In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs - the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems - NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely. Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021. Moreover, while NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated. This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program's cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion. In addition, NASA's updated cost estimate for the Orion program reflects 5.6 percent cost growth. The estimate is not complete, however, as it assumes a launch date that is 7 months earlier than Orion's baseline launch date. If the program does not meet the earlier launch date, costs will increase further."

Keith's note: Of course, this report was done according to the program of record which was working toward a 2028 lunar landing - not the new 2024 date. One can only imagine how all of the issues identified by the GAO fare against a rush to place a human on the lunar surface 4 years earlier than planned. It would seem that more money is not going to solve endemic problems in the SLS/Orion program.

"... The program has no schedule margin between the end of core stage production and the start of the green run test, and is tracking risks that may delay the test schedule. For example, as the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in its October 2018 report, the Stage Controller--the core stage's command and control hardware and software needed to conduct the green run test--is 18 months behind schedule and may slip further.13 Any additional delays with the development of the core stage and stage controller will further delay the start of the green run test. In addition, the SLS program has no schedule margin between the green run test and delivery of the core stage to Kennedy Space Center for integration to address any issues that may arise during testing.

... Boeing underestimated the staffing levels required to build the core stage in the time available. ... The build plans for the core stage were not adequately mature when the contractor began work on the hardware itself, which led to additional delays. ... Boeing officials explained that they did not anticipate any changes from NASA for the loads--impacts and stresses of mass, pressure, temperature, and vibration that the vehicle will experience--following the program's critical design review, but instead NASA provided three significant updates to those loads. ... Boeing officials stated that it has been challenging to execute NASA's development approach that called for the first set of hardware built to be used for the initial launch. Boeing officials stated that they are more used to an approach in which they use the first hardware built to qualify the design and that hardware is never flown.

... NASA's current approach for reporting cost growth misrepresents the cost performance of the program and thus undermines the usefulness of a baseline as an oversight tool. ... NASA does not have a cost and schedule baseline for SLS beyond the first flight.19 As a result, NASA cannot monitor or track costs shifted beyond EM-1 against a baseline.

... The Orion program is not on schedule to meet the June 2020 launch date for the first mission due to delays with the European Service Module and ongoing component issues with the avionics systems for the crew module, including issues discovered during testing. ... The Orion program has reported development cost growth but is not measuring that growth using a complete cost estimate. ... By not estimating costs through its baseline launch date, the Orion program is limiting the NASA Associate Administrator's insight into how the program is performing against the baseline.

... The Mobile Launcher schedule deteriorated since the December 2017 replan due to problems with finalizing construction work prior to moving it to the Vehicle Assembly Building."

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Will Orbit Beyond's Indian Lander Be Built In Florida or India?

By Keith Cowing on June 18, 2019 3:40 PM.

Bengaluru firm to build moon lander for Nasa 2020 mission, Times of India

"Confirming the development, Team Indus engineer Ananth Ramesh told TOI: "Yes, we will be building the lander. It is most likely to be built in India too." Team Indus CEO Rahul Narayan was in the US to sign the contract documents on Thursday."

America's first private moon lander will be engineered in India, Quartz

"Orbit Beyond, which will assemble the lander and spacecraft in Florida, also includes US firms Honeybee Robotics, Advanced Space, Ceres Robotics, and Apollo Fusion to handle tasks including the installation of scientific payloads, maneuvering from the earth to the moon, and operations on the lunar surface."

Keith's 15 June note: If you read articles about OrbitBeyond in the Indian press they all say that the lander will likely be built in India. If you read stories published in the U.S. they say it will be assembled here. This issue apparently came up in last week's space science hearings. OrbitBeyond is a privately held company that was only recently established and looks to be designed as more of a shell company to coordinate the activities of its various team members. The bulk of the hardware is going to be of Indian design. The lingering question is: where will it actually be built?

Keith's 18 June note: OrbitBeyond has not replied to requests on this issue.

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NASA OIG Finds Pervasive Problems With JPL Cybersecurity

By Keith Cowing on June 18, 2019 12:28 PM.

NASA OIG: Cybersecurity Management and Oversight at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

"Multiple IT security control weaknesses reduce JPL's ability to prevent, detect, and mitigate attacks targeting its systems and networks, thereby exposing NASA systems and data to exploitation by cyber criminals. ... We also found that security problem log tickets, created in the ITSDB when a potential or actual IT system security vulnerability is identified, were not resolved for extended periods of time - sometimes longer than 180 days. ... Further, we found that multiple JPL incident management and response practices deviate from NASA and recommended industry practices. ... Finally, while the contract between NASA and Caltech requires JPL to report certain types of IT security incidents to the Agency through the NASA SOC incident management system, no controls were in place to ensure JPL compliance with this requirement nor did NASA officials have access to JPL's incident management system. Collectively, these weaknesses leave NASA data and systems at risk. Despite these significant concerns, the contract NASA signed with Caltech in October 2018 to manage JPL for at least the next 5 years left important IT security requirements unresolved and instead both sides agreed to continue negotiating these issues. As of March 2019, the Agency had not approved JPL's plans to implement new IT security policies and requirements NASA included in its October 2018 contract."

NASA Needs A New Chief Information Officer, earlier post

"NASA's CIO has been asleep at the wheel for years. Its time for a reboot."

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Mike Griffin Is Not Making Many Friends at DoD

By Keith Cowing on June 17, 2019 7:22 PM.

Top DoD Official Shank Resigns; SCO Moving To DARPA, Breaking Defense

"My integrity and belief in SCO's mission is more important to me than my friendship over many years with Mike (Griffin)." That is why the head of the Pentagon's vaunted Strategic Capabilities Office, Chris Shank, has resigned rather than see his office transferred to DARPA. Griffin called Shank into his office on Friday and told him the office would be transferred and asked for Shank's resignation. He agreed and immediately resigned. Griffin has pushed hard for the transfer of the SCO but Rep. Mac Thornberry, top HASC Republican, added language calling for more study of the move in the HASC National Defense Authorization Act markup last Wednesday. The Senate Armed Services Committee added similar language. They are not alone in opposing the transfer of SCO."

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The First American Journalist In Space

By Keith Cowing on June 17, 2019 2:49 PM.

Keith's note: Next week a SpaceX Falcon Heavy with be launched. On board will be the Celestis Heritage payload. Inside will be some ashes of my long time friend and collaborator Frank Sietzen. It would seem that Frank is about to become the first American journalist in space. Frank was also the first SpaceX employee in Washington DC.

Ad Astra Frank.

Frank Clark Sietzen, Jr., Celestis

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NASA Stands Its Ground On Climate Change Science

By Keith Cowing on June 16, 2019 4:26 PM.

Emails: Trump official pressed NASA on climate science, AP

"Once a skeptic about climate change, Jim Bridenstine came around to the prevailing view of scientists before he took over as NASA administrator. That evolution did not sit well with a Trump environmental adviser, nor a think-tank analyst he was consulting, according to newly disclosed emails that illustrate how skepticism of global warming has found a beachhead in the Trump White House. "Puzzling," said the May 2018 exchange between William Happer, now a member of President Donald Trump's National Security Council, and Thomas Wysmuller of the Heartland Institute, which disavows manmade climate change. Their exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change "part of the nonsense" and urges the NASA head - who was copied in - to "systematically sidestep it." It cannot be discerned whether it was Happer or Wysmuller who put that pressure on the new NASA chief. Their exchange is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press." ...

... "We provide the data that informs policymakers around the world," spokesman Bob Jacobs said. "Our science information continues to be published publicly as it always has." Heartland Institute spokesman Jim Lakely said in an email that NASA's public characterization of climate change as man-made and a global threat "is a disservice to taxpayers and science that it is still pushed by NASA."

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The NASA Advisory Council Is About To Shrink

By Keith Cowing on June 15, 2019 3:23 PM.

Executive Order on Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees, White House

"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as amended (5 U.S.C. App.), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Review of Current Advisory Committees. (a) Each executive department and agency (agency) shall evaluate the need for each of its current advisory committees established under section 9(a)(2) of FACA and those advisory committees established under section 9(a)(1) that are authorized by law but not required by statute (eligible committees).

(b) Each agency shall, by September 30, 2019, terminate at least one-third of its current committees established under section 9(a)(2) of FACA, including committees for which the:

(i) stated objectives of the committee have been accomplished;
(ii) subject matter or work of the committee has become obsolete;
(iii) primary functions have been assumed by another entity; or
(iv) agency determines that the cost of operation is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government."

Keith's note: The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) has 6 standing committees: Aeronautics, Human Exploration and Operations, Regulatory and Policy, Science, Technology, Innovation and Engineering, and STEM Engagement. Unless NASA can get a waiver two of them need to be dissolved. Odds are that the Regulatory and Policy and STEM Engagement committees would be the ones to go.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel was established "under Section 6 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 1968, as amended (51 U.S.C. § 31101). The NASA Administrator hereby renews and amends the Panel's charter, pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), 5 U.S.C. App. §§ 1 et seq." and is likely to be unaffected by this executive order since it has a basis in law. However the NASA Advisory Council, formed in 1977, was established "pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as amended, 5 U.S.C., App." and is exactly what this executive order is talking about. Jim Bridenstine has to reply with his suggested cuts by 1 August 2019.

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Back To The Moon - By Any Means Necessary

By Keith Cowing on June 14, 2019 12:07 PM.

Keith's note: After months of being shy about how much it will cost to send Americans back to the lunar surface by 2024, NASA Administrator Bridenstine has finally started to get specific. Upon hearing the numbers no one is really experiencing sticker shock. We all knew it would be a large number range that is beyond anything NASA could be expected to get. But Bridenstine is undeterred and is marching forth trying to make this whole thing work.

The cost numbers appeared in a CNN article yesterday: "NASA has touted its bold plan to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024 for months. Now we're starting to get an idea of how much it will cost. The space agency will need an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years for its moon project, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN Business on Thursday. That would mean adding another $4 billion to $6 billion per year, on average, to the agency's budget, which is already expected to be about $20 billion annually. Bridenstine's remarks are the first time that NASA has shared a total cost estimate for its moon program, which is called Artemis (after the Greek goddess of the moon) and could send people to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century. NASA wants that mission to include two astronauts: A man and the first-ever woman to walk on the moon."

Let's take the high end of the cost range = $30 billion. NASA has asked for $1.6 billion as a supplement to its FY 2020 Budget. So lets round out the remainder to $28 billion. In order for the whole Artemis Moon 2024 thing to happen that additional money needs to appear - dependably on time - over the course of FY 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and likely 2025. Let's ignore ramp ups and other things associated with typical programs and divide this amount by 5. You get an additional $5.6 billion every year. Or, lets be charitable and assume that they hit the lower number i.e. $20 billion. After deducting the current $1.6 billion request that leaves roughly $18 billion in additional funding or $3.6 billion in additional funding per year. So NASA needs somewhere between $3.6 and $5.6 billion a year for 5 fiscal years in order to meet the vice president's goal of landing Americans on the Moon by the end of 2024.

Over the past several years NASA watched the lifetime of ISS extended again and again. Now the target seems to be in the 2028-2030 range. NASA had hoped to totally hand over LEO operations to the private sector so that they could pivot several billion a year into the Moon program - and that was the program aimed at a 2028 landing. Now that goal post has been moved up by 4 years. This ISS hand off is not going to happen. None of the business ideas presented to NASA recently work unless NASA is still paying the lion's share of the bills. So NASA is going to be funding ISS operations for the next decade.

Add in chronic SLS delays and cost increases, problems with JWST, and pressure to increase funding in its various science portfolios and NASA is already totally over subscribed and under equipped fiscally to achieve all that is on its plate. Using commercial alternatives is smart and will decrease costs but NASA will still be billions of dollar short - at the onset - as it embarks on the Moon 2024 effort. The only way to possibly meet the Moon 2024 deadline is to find throw out the program of record and try something much more spartan. But we all know that SLS and Orion are not going to be cancelled. Full stop.

Regardless of how NASA does this much more money is going to be needed. And that money will have to be fought for. The Administration is going to have to champion these costs increases for the remainder of this term and the entirety of a hypothetical second term. And they they will have to do so while pursuing cuts to other parts of the government - as they have claimed that they will be doing. Congress is not likely to go along with this lopsided support of NASA while other science and technology efforts are cut.

If a new Administration takes over in early 2021 then one has to wonder if Artemis and the 2024 deadline will survive. High visibility, pet projects touted by prior Administrations rarely survive intact when the new folks show up.

So - its all gloomy and impossible and foolish to even attempt this Moon 2024 thing, right? No. Not at all. We have unfinished business on the Moon - and if we do not go back, other nations will. The only way that Artemis can succeed in meeting a 2024 deadline is if it is conducted by NASA using the smartest approach available and if NASA is willing to walk away from expensive mistakes, eat the costs, and accept the criticisms that go with admitting failure.

Moreover, to ensure that the Artemis program is not guaranteed to drop dead in 2021, NASA needs to equip it with a simple, internally - and externally consistent reason for being. Even if this Administration gets a second term, Bridenstine is going to need Democratic buy-in to get the $1.6 billion. He is going to need it for another 5 years to get all of the money. And if the White House changes hands, he will need that buy-in even more.

But we do have a solution. A few months ago Vice President Pence said "But know this: The President has directed NASA and Administrator Jim Bridenstine to accomplish this goal by any means necessary. In order to succeed, as the Administrator will discuss today, we must focus on the mission over the means. You must consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space enterprise."

NASA has only danced around the whole "by any means necessary" option. Now that the immense monetary needs are coming into focus it is obvious that NASA needs to revisit the means whereby this Moon project is accomplished. The current assumptions under which it is proceeding simply will not work. The money will not be there.

If Jim Bridenstine can craft the proverbial "elevator speech" that gets everyone, everywhere on board with Artemis - whether it is in the Halls of Congress or in a Walmart parking lot in 'Flyover Country' - then there will be no stopping NASA. Right now, PR slogans aside, the only clear reason we have is a directive from the White House with a delivery date that is equal to the length of a second term.

Why isn't all of America buzzing about going back to the Moon? If NASA and Jim Bridenstine can answer that question then they will be well along the path of understanding how to find that elusive "Why" that Artemis is currently lacking.

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Everyone Wants Their Own Space Station

By Keith Cowing on June 14, 2019 12:02 AM.

India to have its own space station: ISRO, The Hindu

"India plans to have its own space station, and modalities for it will be worked out after the first manned mission, Gaganyaan, scheduled for August 2022, K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said on Thursday. "We want to have a separate space station. We will launch a small module for microgravity experiments... that is our ambition," he said, addressing the media. A detailed report would be submitted to the government after the Gaganyaan mission. Dr. Sivan said the proposed space station is envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and serve as a facility where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days, and it would be placed in an orbit 400 km above earth. The time frame for launch is 5-7 years after Gaganyaan, he added. The ISRO would also join the international space community for a manned mission to moon and beyond, Dr. Sivan said."

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NASA Needs A New Chief Information Officer

By Keith Cowing on June 14, 2019 12:00 AM.

Renee Wynn, CIO, NASA, GovernmentCIO

"Renee Wynn has an astronomical responsibility in managing a mix of new and legacy systems to manage NASA's vast amount of data across its programs that include missions back to the Moon and to Mars."

Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post

"One thing NASA needs to do as part of this effort to fix its public and internal cyber infrastructure is to totally overhaul the Chief Information Officer's organization. They dabble in things that are often peripheral to their core charter while getting bad ratings and reviews year after year on the things that they are supposed to be worrying about. NASA has never had a CIO who actually does what the job entails. Just sayin'"

Keith's note: (sigh) more IT babble from the NASA CIO. AS far as NASA's blatantly obvious byzantine website mess the CIO could have addressed at any time - but they did not. Have a look at these stories about NASA's creaky, mismanaged, and needlessly redundant cyber infrastructure - from just the past year or so. NASA's CIO has been asleep at the wheel for years. Its time for a reboot.

- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post
- NASA Continues To Flunk Basic IT and Cybersecurity Rankings, earlier post
- NASA's Administrator Uses Technology Better Than The Space Industry Does, earlier post
- NASA CIO Can't Even Find Their Own Directives Online, earlier post
- NASA MSFC Employee Tries To Make Serkan Golge's Past Disappear, earlier post
- NASA's Chief Information Officer Is Not Doing Their Job (Update), earlier post
- NASA Still Has Big Unresolved Cybersecurity Issues, earlier post

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Video: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Event on ISS and Gateway Commercialization

By Keith Cowing on June 13, 2019 5:24 PM.

Keith's note: Go to 36:50 for a question to Rick Leach from CASIS about their plans for space commercialization and to HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier at 2:08:20 for a question about whether NASA thinks that it can still transfer the total cost of ISS operations to the private sector - as was their plan last year.

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How Quickly We Forget Who Pays For The Rockets

By Keith Cowing on June 13, 2019 9:44 AM.

HASC Chairman Smith Earmarks $500M Giveaway For SpaceX, Potentially Aborting Air Force Space Plans, Loren Thompson, Forbes

Keith's note: First Thompson goes on a rant against SpaceX:

"Smith's proposed language is Washington politics at its worst. According to the Air Force, if it becomes law U.S. access to critical national security orbits will be endangered, the military will need to rely longer on Russian rocket engines, and the cost of all national-security space missions will increase. As if that were not enough, the Air Force says Smith's proposal would reward an uncompetitive offeror while punishing successful competitors who have been sharing the cost of developing launch vehicles with the government."

Then after he's unloaded on SpaceX, Thompson tosses this little caveat out:

"I should note that the one "traditional" supplier that won an agreement is co-owned by two companies that contribute to my think tank, but that is really beside the point here".

Oh - so his salary at Lexington Institute is paid in part by companies that compete with SpaceX - but he's not biased since this is all "really beside the point". Got it. Funny how Thompson neglects to mention the de facto duopoly between Lockheed Martin and Boeing for EELVs that persisted for a very long time wherein the companies were paid to develop and then maintain their rockets so as to be ready to fly them for DoD. But, again, that is "really beside the point". Just sayin'

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CASIS Apparently Wants An Expanded Role on ISS Commercialization

By Keith Cowing on June 13, 2019 9:17 AM.

Keith's note: Rick Leach sought to downplay any expanded role for CASIS in overt commercial ventures on ISS (or elsewhere) the other day. CASIS had planned to try and turn up the volume on that topic at NASA HQ. CASIS sought to have a bigger role in ISS commercialization in earlier rmeetings with NASA. This is not the first time this has been discussed sources tell me. It was rather clear in comments made last week at NASDAQ and again on Monday at the U.S. Chamber of commerce by Bill Gerstenmaier that CASIS has a limited role - facilitating basic research - both scientific and technical - within the ISS National Laboratory portion of NASA's allotment on ISS. And NASA did not foresee any change in that role. CASIS was not a participant in the NASDAQ event - at NASA's direction. I guess not everyone at CASIS got the message. Stay tuned.

CASIS Clarifies Its Expansion Ambitions, earlier post

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The Planetary Science Community Is Split On Artemis/Moon2024

By Keith Cowing on June 12, 2019 12:13 PM.

Dear Colleague Letter From The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group On The Proposed NASA Budget Amendment

"It came to our attention that the AAS / DPS sent a letter to its membership on 23 May 2019 detailing its concerns about three issues associated with the NASA proposed budget amendment and the rollout of the NASA Artemis program. These concerns include: the proposed Pell Grant offset, the NASA Administrator's proposed transfer authority, and "lack of community consensus on the science program." The first two concerns have to do with priorities within the administration, and the AAS/DPS stance is echoed by other professional societies. However, the third concern, that "there is not a community- wide consensus" on the lunar science to be accomplished with the requested $90M within the amendment, is incorrect and deserves clarification. LEAG was consulted extensively by NASA in the formulation of LDEP."

Message from the AAS President and DPS Chair: Moon - 2024?

"Since the changes in civilian space policy to return to the Moon have occurred after the last planetary science decadal survey in 2013 and that survey's midterm assessment in 2018, there is not a community-wide consensus on where the Administration's proposed lunar science program would rank within the relative priorities for lunar science, let alone within the priorities for the overall planetary science enterprise. The primary new lunar mission prioritized by the 2013 planetary decadal was the Lunar Geophysical Network (recommended for inclusion in the fifth New Frontiers competition). The 2013 survey also reaffirmed the 2003 survey's Lunar South Pole- Aitken Basin Sample Return mission for the fifth New Frontiers competition since it wasn't selected in the fourth New Frontiers round."

Taking an Anti-Moon 2024 Position While Pretending Not To, earlier post

"We have decided against taking an official position on NASA's Artemis proposal at this time. It is still very early, and we do not think that the benefits of public opposition to an ill-defined and untested proposal outweigh the use of political capital, at least not yet."

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Getting Serious About Astrobiology

By Keith Cowing on June 11, 2019 12:35 PM.

Breakthrough Watch and European Southern Observatory Achieve First Light on Upgraded Planet-finding Instrument

"Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said: "We're delighted to collaborate with the ESO in designing, building, installing and now using this innovative new instrument. If there are Earth-like planets around Alpha Centauri A and B, that's huge news for everyone on our planet." "ESO is glad to bring its expertise, existing infrastructure, and observing time on the Very Large Telescope to the NEAR project," commented ESO project manager Robin Arsenault. "This is a valuable opportunity, as -- in addition to its own science goals -- the NEAR experiment is also a path-finder for future planet-hunting instruments for the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope, " says Markus Kasper, ESO's lead scientist for NEAR. "NEAR is the first and (currently) only project that could directly image a habitable exoplanet. It marks an important milestone. Fingers crossed - we are hoping a large habitable planet is orbiting Alpha Cen A or B" commented Olivier Guyon, lead scientist for Breakthrough Watch. "Human beings are natural explorers," said Yuri Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives, "It is time we found out what lies beyond the next valley. This telescope will let us gaze across."

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More stories for June.

AAS Glenn Symposium July 10-12 in Cleveland
49th International Conference on Environmental Systems - ICES 2019
Global MilSatCom, November 5-7, 2019, London, UK
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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 June 2019 - Testing Deep Space Biomedical Gear

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 June 2019 - Testing Deep Space Biomedical Gear Video in Story

The Expedition 59 crew collected blood and breath samples today to test new biomedical gear and protect future astronauts going to the Moon and Mars. The orbital residents also participated in a pair of behavioral studies aboard the International Space Station.

More updates...

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