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Mike Gold Joins NASA As Special Advisor

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2019 10:25 AM.

Keith's note: Mike Gold from Maxar has been tapped be become a special advisory to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Gold will be providing advice to Bridenstine on a range of topics with a special focus on expanding commercialization in low Earth orbit, cis-lunar space and beyond. In addition of working for Maxar he also served on the NASA Adviosry Council and was the energetic chair of the NAC Regulatory and Policy Committee. Mike also served on the board of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and worked for a number of years for Bigelow Aerospace. Mike is also a big Star Trek fan and should provide a balancing influence upon rabid Star Wars fan Jim Bridenstine.

- NAC bio
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Meanwhile At A NASA Center Far, Far Away ... (Update)

By Keith Cowing on November 15, 2019 4:20 PM.

Keith's note: @VP Pence retweeted this tweet and it has gone viral. Oops.


VP Pence Visited Ames Today

By Keith Cowing on November 14, 2019 6:02 PM.

Remarks by Vice President Pence to NASA's Ames Research Center Employees and Guests

"And unlike in years past, under this President's leadership, I'm proud to report we not only have the will, we not only have the support of the American people, we not only have the greatest innovators and inventors, but we also have the budgets to match. We're going to give NASA the resources they need to accomplish their mission. In fact, this President has already signed into law the largest budget ever for this agency in the modern era, and we're about to add another billion and a half."

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OIG Predicts Commercial Crew Delay To Mid-2020

By Keith Cowing on November 14, 2019 1:42 PM.

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of Crew Transportation to the International Space Station

"Boeing and SpaceX each face significant safety and technical challenges with parachutes, propulsion, and launch abort systems that need to be resolved prior to receiving NASA authorization to transport crew to the ISS. The complexity of these issues has already caused at least a 2-year delay in both contractors' development, testing, and qualification schedules and may further delay certification of the launch vehicles by an additional year.

Consequently, given the amount, magnitude, and unknown nature of the technical challenges remaining with each contractor's certification activities, CCP will continue to be challenged to establish realistic launch dates. Furthermore, final vehicle certification for both contractors will likely be delayed at least until summer 2020 based on the number of ISS and CCP certification requirements that remain to be verified and validated. In order to optimize development timelines, NASA continues to accept deferrals or changes to components and capabilities originally planned to be demonstrated on each contractor's uncrewed test flights. Taken together, these factors may elevate the risk of a significant system failure or add further delays to the start of commercial crewed flights to the ISS."

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Thursday's Stealth Astrobiology Event At Ames

By Keith Cowing on November 14, 2019 1:39 PM.

Keith's 13 Nov note: Last month the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) tweeted about their mailing list telling people to join. I tried to join only to find out that I was already a member. This list doesn't seem to mail anything. I just stumbled across this Astrobiology event which is happening tomorrow at Ames: "Celebrating the NAI at 20". I never got an email about this. Indeed I am rather certain that NAI has not mailed anything out for months.

If you look at the @NASAAstroBio Twitter account there is no mention whatsoever that this event is happening . But the NAI Twitter account seems to want everyone to know that NASA has an astrobiologist/artist named Aaron at NASA. If you go to there is no mention on the main page. You have to dig down to find it. There is no mention of it on the Ames home page or on the calendar. One would think that a 20th anniversary of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA Ames would be worth a little promotion. This is really baffling. Its almost as if NASA's Astrobiology program simply does not want anyone to know what it is doing.

Keith's 14 Nov update: @NASAAstroBio finally got around to tweeting a link to this event - 2 hours after the event started.


What The SLS Budget Could Have Bought

By Keith Cowing on November 13, 2019 3:52 PM.


Hearing: Structuring a Moon-Mars Program for Success

By Keith Cowing on November 13, 2019 2:36 PM.

Keeping Our Sights on Mars Part 2: Structuring a Moon-Mars Program for Success

Rep. Johnson

"Proponents of the Administration's crash program may argue that such a deadline will instill a sense of urgency and motivation into our space program. However, an arbitrary deadline that is uninformed by technical and programmatic realities, that is unaccompanied by a credible plan, and that fails to identify the needed resources is one that sets NASA up to fail rather than enabling it to succeed. Not only does that do the hardworking men and women of NASA and its contractor team a real disservice, but it will wind up weakening American leadership in space rather than strengthening it."

Rep. Babin

"At our last Space Subcommittee hearing, NASA said that maintaining the 2024 date for a Lunar landing is unlikely if they do not receive the additional funding they requested in their budget amendment. If a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing is any indication, the likelihood of receiving additional funding this year is decreasing."

Thomas Young

"A clear, unambiguous goal is required. Is the lunar part of the program to support success at Mars or is it to achieve sustained lunar presence? Does the Mars part of the program have specific objectives such as a Mars orbital mission followed by "boots on the ground," or is it a long-range objective? Answers to these questions will have a profound impact on schedule, cost and a reasonable timeline for humans to Mars. A clear, unambiguous goal must be followed by a detailed plan that is consistent with the goal and developed by the Mars-Moon program leadership. A detailed plan is the "glue" that integrates the vast array of Mars-Moon participants into the incredible team necessary to implement the Mars-Moon program. Additionally, a detailed plan is necessary to rally support, develop a credible budget, and obtain program and budget approval."

Thomas Stafford

"President Trump set a goal of returning to the Moon by 2024. NASA will have to make bold decisions and utilize a lot of the management techniques used during Apollo program. The leadership capability at NASA must be augmented at headquarters and at the applicable centers. The execution of a large complex program will require adequate systems engineering, integration and an appropriate budget to carry this out. The Congress will also need to produce adequate legislation to support this effort. Utilizing NASA and the aerospace industry as implementations capable of achieving this noble goal."

Rep. Horn

"Over the past 20 years, we have had a taste of the cost and effort involved in leading and maintaining long-term human spaceflight activities. Developing, assembling, and operating the International Space Station took over a decade to complete, represented a U.S. investment of over $80 billion dollars, and requires about $3 billion a year to support. Getting to the Moon and Mars will require much more."

Rep. Lucas

"As we set forth on our return to the Moon, we should always be mindful of the lessons we learned from Apollo and the decades that followed. Progressing incrementally on successive achievements, limiting the number of mission elements to decrease risk, and maintaining consistency of purpose are lessons that are just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago."

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OIG Report On NASA Challenges

By Keith Cowing on November 13, 2019 12:41 PM.

NASA OIG: 2019 Report on NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges


"Achieving the ambitious goals of landing humans on the Moon by 2024 and Mars in the 2030s will require strong, consistent, and sustained leadership by the President, Congress, and NASA. For its part, NASA must determine the long-term costs, set realistic schedules, define system requirements and mission planning, form or firm up international partnerships, and leverage commercial space capabilities. To this end, our oversight work has found NASA consistently struggling over the past decade to set realistic program cost and schedule goals. Therefore, the accelerated timetable for a lunar landing set out in the Artemis program further increases the risk of inefficient development programs or contract awards with increased costs due to limited competition or unstable program requirements. Although NASA has made significant progress on several fronts to further its human exploration efforts, many questions remain about the total costs, schedule, and scope of the Agency's Moon and Mars ambitions.

Cost increases and schedule delays are long-standing challenges for the Agency. Since its first annual assessment in 2009, GAO has consistently reported on cost growth and schedule delays in the Agency's major projects. For example, in its 2019 assessment GAO found that cost and schedule performance of major projects had deteriorated over the prior year with 9 of 17 projects in development reporting an average cost growth of 27.6 percent over the Agency Baseline Commitment and average launch delays of approximately 13 months. GAO noted the deterioration in cost and schedule performance was largely due to integration and test challenges on JWST and continued production challenges for the SLS.

The success of NASA's many projects relies on the Agency attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce with a diverse set of technical and management capabilities. NASA continues to rank as one of the top places to work in the federal government, a reputation that helps retain highly qualified individuals who are motivated by the Agency's mission. Despite this, NASA faces significant workforce challenges that can hinder its ability to deliver projects in a cost effective and timely manner.

The feasibility of increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit in the short or medium term poses another significant challenge to NASA's plans for increasing commercialization in low Earth orbit. In prior reports, we found that the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) has had limited success in fostering commercial interest in ISS-based research, recruiting users for the ISS National Laboratory, and accomplishing tasks important to building a commercial space economy in low Earth orbit. In addition, we found that NASA failed to oversee CASIS's technical performance which contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. In August 2019, NASA announced an independent review of CASIS to ensure its activities are in line with the Agency's research.

NASA's challenges with contracting and acquisition oversight are long-standing. GAO first designated the Agency's acquisition management as high risk in 1990 given its history of persistent cost growth and schedule delays in the majority of its major projects. ... NASA's poor contract management practices also contributed to the SLS Program's 21⁄2-years of schedule slippage and approximately $4 billion over cost estimates. ... NASA's contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements are also at risk of fraud and misconduct. In particular, the Agency's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer programs are a long-standing OIG concern. ... Collectively, our audit and investigative work has consistently shown that NASA's poor management and oversight of contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements has resulted in inappropriate expenditures, wasted taxpayer dollars, and negatively impacted the Agency's mission.

For more than two decades NASA's Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has struggled to implement an effective IT governance structure that aligns authority and responsibility commensurate with the Agency's overall mission. Specifically, the Agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) and IT security officials have limited oversight and influence over IT purchases and security decisions within Mission Directorates and at NASA Centers.

Primary among NASA's challenges is that over 83 percent of the Agency's facilities are beyond their original design life. While NASA strives to keep these facilities operational, the Agency faces a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.65 billion as of 2019. This has resulted in unscheduled maintenance rather than scheduled maintenance costing up to three times more to repair or replace equipment after it has failed."


Living Next Door To SETI

By Keith Cowing on November 13, 2019 12:10 AM.

NO SIGNAL: Growing Up in Green Bank, West Virginia, Observer (scroll down to page 36)

"I grew up in Green Bank, West Virginia, at the center of the federally mandated National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ), where interference like cell phones, wireless internet, and other devices are legally regulated. My hometown feels like another planet, full of opposites and tucked away from the world in a quiet spot. I grew up feeling no different than the average child, but it wasn't until middle school that I realized I lived in a unique area. Green Bank is a special town--the epicenter of the NRQZ, and also a site of fascinating technology used for astronomical research. Green Bank is home to what was, during my childhood, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and is now the Green Bank Observatory (GBO). At GBO, there are eight telescopes, but the most impressive telescope is the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, or the GBT."

Going Off Source: Time Away With SETI In West Virginia, (1997)

"For the past several months I had been meaning to get out to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia to check in with the folks at the Gendarme Rock Climbing Shop. You see, I [used to] run their website, and I have been too busy to get out there - or "get vertical'" for quite some time. Just as this particular need to go out to West Virginia was becoming obvious, along came another reason: I needed to catch up with some SETI folks - and they were going to be in nearby Green Bank for a day or so, an hour's drive from Seneca Rocks. Two perfect excuses to escape the Washington DC metro area, and go off source."


Ultima Thule Is Now "Arrokoth"

By Keith Cowing on November 12, 2019 1:20 PM.

Keith's note: The new name is "Arrokoth" which means 'sky' in Powhatan. It is cool that the IAU named 2014 MU69 this way. Oddly the formal announcement was done in a windowless NASA room with no public visibility. They should have done it outdoors under the 'sky' at the National Museum of the American Indian 2 blocks away. Just sayin'

Keith's update: NASA did talk to the National Museum of the American Indian about hosting this event however the museum does not host events like this so they declined.

Subject: Name of Powhatan heritage and the Algonquian languages Program
Date: 12 November 2019 08:56
To: ""

Good morning SMD: Please join us for an official ceremony to formally bestow upon 2014 MU69 a name of Powhatan heritage and the Algonquian languages. NASA Headquarters Webb Auditorium Tuesday, November 12, 2019 9:00-10:00 a.m. EST".

Keith's update:

New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named 'Arrokoth'

"In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, NASA's New Horizons team - whose spacecraft performed the record-breaking reconnaissance of Arrokoth four billion miles from Earth - proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planet Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects. The name was announced at a ceremony today at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

Continue reading: Ultima Thule Is Now "Arrokoth".


Orbital Op Ed From Christina Koch and Jessica Meir

By Keith Cowing on November 11, 2019 5:26 PM.

It's tough being small in a big-suit world. We still spacewalked., Op Ed, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, Washington Post

"One could say that the first all-female spacewalk was worth celebrating simply because it overcame history. It was the story of two girls who gazed at the stars with an improbable dream, who as women were given the "go" to egress the airlock. But there's more than that. The real achievement is the collective acknowledgment that it is no longer okay to move forward without everyone moving together. NASA's mission is to answer humanity's call to explore. If there is any part of humanity that's not on that journey, we are not achieving our mission. The efforts to equalize exploration are what really ought to be celebrated. ... We are entering a new era where we must commit to go boldly only if that means we all go, an era in which any person who dares to dream will have the opportunity to contribute. Our successes will be greater because not a single innovative idea will be turned away -- that is what diversity and inclusion mean. And that is why a long-overdue all-female spacewalk so captivated the world it served."

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Weapons Of Mass Destruction Have Sent Us To The Stars

By Keith Cowing on November 11, 2019 12:21 AM.

That Time Wernher von Braun's Rocket Tried To Kill My Father

"Humanity now lives in space permanently. Our spacecraft have left the solar system. Our space telescopes look back to the beginning of time. We are spacefarers. Space technology has its roots in weapons of war. America's early accomplishments in space were achieved with direct use of Nazi technology and personnel. Russia followed a similar path. Today North Korea, Iran, and other nations use rocket designs with a clear lineage originating with Hitler's V-2. All technology is iterative. Smart technology persists and finds peaceful uses despite its war making origins. As we focus on the 50th anniversary of America's Apollo 11 mission, it would be informative to glance back at the legacy of using Nazi technology to accomplish this epochal feat of human ingenuity. For me this is incredibly personal. Hitler's V-2 nearly killed my father. Yet I helped design things that flew into space on rockets inspired by V-2 technology - often with my friends on board. The technology that tried to kill my father gave me a career."

Keith's note: Two Titan III rockets - enhanced versions of one of America's first ICBMs - sent the twin Voyagers on a path that has carried them out of our solar system towards the stars. Titan rockets were originally designed to kill vast numbers of people in an instant. They were descended directly from Nazi technology that attempted to do the same. The first humans sent into space were lofted aboard modified ICBMs. Luckily the Titans - and other ICBMs - have never been used as weapons. But the V-2s were. As we honor those who fought to defend against these early space weapons - and mourn those killed by them - and those who died as slave labor building them - its is more important than ever to work to resist heading down that path again.

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SLS Sticker Shock At The White House

By Keith Cowing on November 9, 2019 10:53 AM.

The White House puts a price on the SLS rocket--and it's a lot, Ars Technica

"The Europa mission could be launched by a commercial rocket," Vought wrote to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby. "At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete, the use of a commercial launch vehicle would provide over $1.5 billion in cost savings. The Administration urges the Congress to provide NASA the flexibility called for by the NASA Inspector General."

Keith's note: Over the years I asked Bill Gerstenmaier what the cost of an SLS launch was on a regular basis. I never got an answer. Instead I'd usually get some sort of "we'll get back to you" or "we're still working on that". The ususal assumption was around $1 billion with an expectation that it would be much more. Well, now it is much more.

Of course NASA never explains where they get these numbers. They never include the real cost i.e. going back through the development of SLS into Ares V where this all started. Nor do they get into improvements in ground systems, and dead ends like certifying J-2 for Ares V and then mothballing that effort. Oh yes and then there is the cost of making reusable Shuttle SSMEs into disposable RS-25s. And then there is the cost of the payload - the only actual payload for SLS that currently exists: Orion (unless you count the cubesats that will be launched). NASA talks about using EUS but there is zero money for that new upper stage.

The $2 billion may well be the cost per unit now that all of the sunk costs are spent. But if you look at what it actually took to get to the point of being being able to actually build and fly this rocket, the reals cost per launch is much, much more than $2 billion.

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OMB Pushes Back On Senate Space Appropriations Thinking

By Keith Cowing on November 7, 2019 9:06 PM.

Letter from OMB to Sen. Shelby regarding Senate versions of appropriations bills (NASA/Space excerpts)(PDF)

"The bill includes funding that the Administration believes is not in line with the overall effort to control non-defense spending reflected in the FY 2020 Budget request or underfunds key investments in critical areas supported in the FY 2020 Budget request, including:

- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Administration appreciates the Committee's continued support for space exploration, reflected in the $22.8 billion provided in the bill for NASA, which includes an increase of $680 million for lunar-focused exploration programs. However, the $1.6 billion provided for exploration research and development (R&D) is insufficient to fully fund the lander system that astronauts would use to return to the Moon in 2024. Funding exploration R&D at the $2.3 billion level requested in the FY 2020 Budget is needed to support the Administration's goal of returning to the Moon by 2024.

The Administration would also like to take this opportunity to share its views regarding language provisions in the bill including:

- NASA Europa Mission. The bill requires that NASA use the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission. The Administration is deeply concerned that this mandate would slow the lunar exploration program, which requires every SLS rocket available. Unlike the human exploration program, which requires use of the SLS, the Europa mission could be launched by a commercial rocket. At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete, the use of a commercial launch vehicle would provide over $1.5 billion in cost savings. The Administration urges the Congress to provide NASA the flexibility called for by the NASA Inspector General and consistent with the FY 2020 Budget request.

- NASA financial systems report language. The Committee report includes directive language for NASA that would hinder the Administration's efforts to help the agency make necessary corrections to its financial systems. These changes are needed to eliminate current deficiencies and improve NASA's ability to efficiently comply with the Antideficiency Act.

- Satellite Instrumentation Report Language. The Committee report includes language that would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the impacts that instruments operating in the 23.6 to 24 gigahertz bands have on weather satellites. Such a study would be directly duplicative of past Agency studies on this subject, which were fully considered by the Administration in a lengthy interagency process earlier this year, leading to a carefully-wrought compromise that balances the spectrum needs of government and private enterprise. The Administration believes that further study is unnecessary, and asks that the language be removed.

The Administration appreciates that the bill includes funding for critical priorities, including:

- Space Force. The Administration greatly appreciates that the Committee establishes an "Operations and Maintenance, Space Force" appropriation within the Department of Defense (DOD) for the first time and has provided the requested funding for the initial operations of the United States Space Force. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to complement the Committee's work by modifying Title 10 of the United States Code to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces in FY 2020."

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Starliner Parachute Problem: Bad Connection Between Pilot And Main

By Keith Cowing on November 7, 2019 1:42 PM.


More stories for November.

ICES 2020, July 12-16, 2020 in Lisbon, Portugal

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NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for November 15, 2019

NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for November 15, 2019 Video in Story

NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station.

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