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First Rocket Lab Launch Almost Reaches Orbit

By Keith Cowing on May 25, 2017 9:08 AM.

Rocket Lab Makes It Into Space On Its First Launch (with videos)

"Rocket Lab broke new ground today when its Electron rocket reached space at 16:23 NZST. Electron lifted-off at 16:20 NZST from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. It was the first orbital-class rocket launched from from a private launch site in the world. "It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation. We didn't quite reach orbit and we'll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our programme, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business," says Beck."

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DARPA Picks Boeing's Phantom Express

By Keith Cowing on May 24, 2017 12:39 PM.

Boeing, DARPA to Design, Build, Test New Experimental Spaceplane

"Boeing will develop an autonomous, reusable spaceplane capable of carrying and deploying a small expendable upper stage to launch small (3,000 pound/1,361 kg) satellites into low Earth orbit. Boeing and DARPA will jointly invest in the development. Once the spaceplane - called Phantom Express - reaches the edge of space, it would deploy the second stage and return to Earth. It would then land on a runway to be prepared for its next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles similar to modern aircraft."

Aerojet Rocketdyne Selected As Main Propulsion Provider for Boeing and DARPA Experimental Spaceplane

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Cutting NASA Education In Order To Save It

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 5:52 PM.

Keith's note: This is kind of strange. If the intent for the NASA Education Office was to do something "NASA-wide" then you'd think that an agency-wide organization/approach would be needed for that. This is what the NASA Education Office has done for decades. But instead of thinking agency-wide and fixing the NASA Education Office they have decided to close the agency-wide Education Office and shove the remnants inside of the Science Mission Directorate. When I asked Acting NASA CFO Andrew Hunter about this he said that NASA does not have a response to this issue and that Acting Education Office AA Mike Kincaid is working on that. So, in other words, they are shutting down the Education Office - without any plan to do all of what the Education Office has been doing for several generations. Hunter and (earlier today) Robert Lightfoot both went off on the whole "inspring the next generation" thing and rambled on about websites and social media - most of which is not paid for by NASA Education office but rather by NASA PAO or the mission directorates. Yet somehow we are supposed to think that doing less education stuff can actually result in more inspiring of the next generation. But wait: Hunter thinks Congress will add things back. So why delete things in the first place if you expect them to be put back?

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Hearing on Space Settlement and Commerce

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 3:34 PM.

Reopening the American Frontier: Exploring How the Outer Space Treaty Will Impact American Commerce and Settlement in Space, Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness

LIVE

"This hearing will examine U.S. government obligations under the Outer Space Treaty on its 50th anniversary, specifically compliance with Article VI of the Treaty that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities. This hearing will also explore the Treaty's potential impacts on expansion of our nation's commerce and settlement in space."

- James Dunstan, Mobius Legal Group, PLLC [statement]
- Laura Montgomery, Ground Based Space Matters, LLC [statement]
- Matthew Schaefer, University of Nebraska College of Law [statement]
- Mike Gold, Space Systems Loral [statement]
- Peter Marquez, Planetary Resources [statement]
- Colonel Pamela Melroy, Retired and Former Astronaut [statement]
- Bob Richards, Moon Express [statement]

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More Bad Budget News For NASA

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 1:51 PM.

Sequsetration Order For FY 2018, White House

"By the authority vested in me as President by the laws of the United States of America, and in accordance with section 251A of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act (the "Act"), as amended, 2 U.S.C. 901a, I hereby order that, on October 1, 2017, direct spending budgetary resources for fiscal year 2018 in each non-exempt budget account be reduced by the amount calculated by the Office of Management and Budget in its report to the Congress of May 23, 2017. All sequestrations shall be made in strict accordance with the requirements of section 251A of the Act and the specifications of the Office of Management and Budget's report of May 23, 2017, prepared pursuant to section 251A(9) of the Act."

Keith's note: What does this mean? My first guess is that NASA will find itself with a budget somewhere between the FY 2017 budget enacted by Congress and what Trump has proposed for FY 2018. It is almost a certainty that this will undermine the budget levels achieved for FY 2017. Two steps forward, one step back.

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This Is NOT How You Inspire The Next Generation

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 12:49 PM.

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NASA Is In Denial About Its FY 2018 Budget

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 12:22 PM.

Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot's Message on Fiscal Year 2018 Budget

"While this budget no longer supports the formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through its missions and the many ways that our work excites and encourages discovery by learners and educators. Let me tell you, we are as committed to inspiring the next generation as ever. We're going to engage the public in the compelling story of exploration by the successful and safe execution of our missions, which is where our focus has to be. At the same time, we're going to take this opportunity for NASA to revisit the public engagement and outreach activities that take place on the ground at centers every day to ensure that we are leveraging the synergies between education and outreach to facilitate meaningful connections."

Keith's note: In other words the White House thinks that NASA no longer needs an education office - after half a century of having one -- and that reducing funding for education and outreach will somehow cause more education and public outreach to be accomplished.

"While we are not proposing to move forward with Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder (CLARREO PF), and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), this budget still includes significant Earth Science efforts, including 18 Earth observing missions in space as well as airborne missions."

Saying that you are still doing some earth science while multiple cutting climate science missions is akin to saying "be thankful that we did not cut all of it."

"We have a budget that also provides the necessary resources in the coming year to support our plans to send humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s. The European service module will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for integration with Orion in 2018. Prototype ground testing of habitat modules under our broad area announcement activity will happen in 2018."

NASA still has nowhere near the funding or anything close to the required strategic planning needed to send human to Mars in the 2030's and the Trump Administration is willing to continue the charade initiated by the Obama Administration while further undercutting the agency's ability to actually attempt to do these tasks.

And of course, Congress will reverse all of the things proposed in this budget - again.

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FY 2018 Budget Proposal For NASA

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 9:33 AM.

NASA to Discuss FY2018 Budget Proposal, Provide Virtual Tours of Centers

"Lightfoot will give a presentation at 12:30 p.m. EDT to NASA employees at the agency's Headquarters in Washington on FY2018 budget highlights, setting the stage for the coming year at NASA and spotlighting the past work that led to current achievements. This presentation will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Budget Documents, Strategic Plans and Performance Reports

- NASA FY 2018 Budget Estimates
- Agency Fact Sheet
- Mission Fact Sheets

NASA Excerpt: America First A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again

"The President's 2018 Budget requests $19.1 billion for NASA, a 0.8 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level, with targeted increases consistent with the President's priorities. ... Supports and expands public-private partnerships as the foundation of future U.S. civilian space efforts. The Budget creates new opportunities for collaboration with industry on space station operations, supports public-private partnerships for deep-space habitation and exploration systems, funds data buys from companies operating small satellite constellations, and supports work with industry to develop and commercialize new space technologies."

Keith's note: The White House is not interested in a robust, meaningful education program at NASA:

"Eliminates the $115 million Office of Education, resulting in a more focused education effort through NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a NASA-wide education strategy and is performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the agency."

Contrary to the clear intent of Congress to (once again) oppose that action:

Senators to Trump Administration; Do Not Hurt Workforce By Cutting NASA Education Funding

"Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), co-chairs of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, are leading a group of 32 Senators in a letter urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to support NASA's Office of Education in the coming fiscal year."

The White House is also putting its climate change denial rhetoric into effect:

"Provides $1.8 billion for a focused, balanced Earth science portfolio that supports the priorities of the science and applications communities, a savings of $102 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget terminates four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduces funding for Earth science research grants."

Yet they do not even know who does what in this regard:

Trump's OMB Does Not Know Who Operates DSCOVR, earlier post

"So NASA does not actually operate instruments on DSCOVR - NOAA does - but OMB wants NASA to "terminate" them anyway. And the money saved annually for NASA data analysis? $1.7 million. The cost for a single trip to Mar-a-Lago? $3 million. Priceless."

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Welcome To TrumpSpace (Its Really ObamaSpace)

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2017 9:00 AM.

NASA to Discuss FY2018 Budget Proposal, Provide Virtual Tours of Centers

"NASA will hold a series of events Tuesday, May 23, highlighting the agency's Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, including a televised State of NASA address by acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot."

Keith's note: Earlier this year the White House put forth a budget that cut many things at NASA - thus allowing it to barely tread water. Then Congress responded and NASA's budget picture dramatically improved - but only until 30 September 2017. Now the White House is issuing another budget proposal - this time for FY 2018. Once again the NASA budget is lacking in many ways. It also seeks to pick a fight with appropriators by eliminating the Europa missions that Rep. Culberson included - missions that NASA is required to conduct by law. We've seen this movie before.

NASA will be required to act in lock step with the White House and promote this latest budget request - even if it does damage to NASA programs. Right now NASA is hobbled by the lack of a confirmed Administrator with the top slots at the agency run by people in acting positions and some transition team holdovers. It is expected that Rep. Bridenstine will be nominated to head NASA within the coming days. Once he is confirmed (which may take a while due to ongoing White House distractions) Bridenstine is going to have to get a deputy with actual experience running a large, technically-oriented government R&D agency. He is also going to have to staff the 9th floor at NASA HQ with people who are similarly skilled - and not just rely upon 2016 campaign staffers who got a job simply as a reward for their loyalty.

The two budgets that the White House has submitted to Congress do little - if anything - to help NASA fund all of the things on its to-do list. To be certain, not cutting NASA earlier this year when other agencies were targeted for draconian cuts was an indication of some minimal support for NASA. However, the potential for NASA budget growth was all but non-existent. That said, the large programs NASA still wants to do i.e. SLS/Orion to Mars, the Lunar Gateway, etc. are increasingly underfunded and behind schedule.

Despite promises of a new breath of commercial space thinking in the way NASA does things, the presence of Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker in the wings has not made any noticeable change in NASA priorities - at least not yet. That may come when Scott Pace shows up for work at the National Space Council. But any coordinated policy formulation at the Space Council is going to take a long time to be translated into guidance for Administration budget requests.

In the mean time NASA is going to have to send its envoys to Congress to say that the President's budget cuts are good while simultaneously explaining why it does not have the money for the things Congress has told NASA to do. This is going to happen across the Federal government. Congress already spurned the earlier FY 2017 budget request from the White House. Congress will almost certainly do the same thing with the request for FY 2018. When all is said and done NASA's portfolio under the Trump Administration is going to look exactly like the Obama Administration's portfolio: Strategically scattered, chronically inefficient, and woefully underfunded.

- Trump's FY 2018 NASA Budget Is Not Huge, earlier post
- Bridenstine at NASA - and Pace at NSC - Expected Soon, earlier post
- Senators Reject Trump Push To Cut NASA Education, earlier post
- NASA's Good Budget News Is Not Actually All That Good, earlier post
- Congress Pushes Back Against Trump Science Cuts, earlier post
- Trump's NASA Budget Guts Earth Science and Totally Eliminates Education, earlier post

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Preview of Buyouts and "Reshaping" Coming Soon to NASA

By Keith Cowing on May 22, 2017 11:58 AM.

EPA to set aside $12 million for buyouts in coming months, Washington Post

"The Environmental Protection Agency plans to set aside $12 million for buyouts and early retirements in coming months, as part of an effort to begin "reshaping" the agency's workforce under the Trump administration."

Other Agencies May Follow EPA's Lead in Offering Incentives

"While final budget decisions are to be negotiated in the months ahead with Congress, a recent OMB memo on restructuring agencies and cutting federal jobs told agencies to assume that those proposals will be approved. It also promised quick consideration of early out and buyout requests, although it did not recommend either for or against using them."

Trump's proposed retirement changes would have major impacts on current feds and retirees

"It's happened before; lawmakers and think tanks have offered their own proposals to change the federal retirement system. Despite a few initial worries, current federal employees and retirees have remained relatively unscathed. Yet that could change next year. Federal financial experts are sounding the alarm bells on the major changes to the federal retirement system included in President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 budget -- proposals that they say would leave a significant impact on both current retirees and employees and future workers."

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Contingency EVA Set For Tuesday

By Keith Cowing on May 22, 2017 11:50 AM.

Astronauts Prepare For Contingency Spacewalk

"Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer are getting ready for a contingency spacewalk Tuesday morning. Whitson and Fischer are set to begin the spacewalk at 8 a.m. Tuesday for about two hours of maintenance work. The spacewalk's primary task is the removal and replacement of a data relay box, known as a Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM), which failed Saturday morning. The MDM controls the functionality of station components such as the solar arrays, radiators, cooling loops and other systems."

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Trump's FY 2018 NASA Budget Is Not Huge

By Keith Cowing on May 19, 2017 7:33 PM.

Third Way Statement on the Leaked May 8 Trump Budget, Third Way

2018 budget proposal to spread cuts across NASA programs, Space News

"The spreadsheet suggests that most major NASA accounts will see cuts compared to what Congress provided in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill enacted earlier this month, which gave NASA $19.653 billion overall. Science would receive a little more than $5.71 billion, $53 million less than what it received in 2017."

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NASA Has Rocket Problems But Its Payload Science Is Cutting Edge

By Keith Cowing on May 19, 2017 9:19 AM.

Keith's note: Reading NASAWatch you might think that this site has a preoccupation with clumsy projects (like SLS) that are over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in terms of mission focus. That is not representative of NASA as a whole. Here is one example - I saw this article in Science last week and thought that this research was worth re-featuring - especially given that a bunch of science is headed for ISS in a week or so. When I worked at NASA helping to design Space Station Freedom, my focus was life and materials science payloads. These little DNA sequencing devices (which will fit in your pocket) were impossible back then - and if they were, would have required several payload racks and a lot of power and crew time. While NASA has problems with its rockets, payload technology is moving ahead at warp speed.

Pocket-sized sequencers start to pay off big, Science

"Aaron Burton, an astrobiologist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, who is exploring how nanopore devices could help search for life elsewhere in the solar system, agrees: "The rapid improvements have made it a viable technology right now, rather than an emerging technology that 'could be good in a few years.'" ... MinION's portability continues to prove its value. With the aid of warming packs that kept the machine's chemistry working, Sarah Johnson, a planetary scientist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., used one to generate long reads of DNA while collecting specimens in an Antarctic dry valley, a setting sometimes used as a proxy for Mars."

Sequencing DNA in Space, earlier post SpaceRef

"NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) aboard the ISS. Then again, sometimes they are. This is an example of when the agency really grabs cutting edge biotech and sends it into space. There's usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the ral world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space. This is cutting edge technology folks."

- First DNA Sequencing Conducted in Space, earlier post
- One Billion Base Pairs Sequenced on the Space Station, earlier post

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The Astronaut Who Left NASA Over Fake Taxi Receipts Is ...

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2017 3:20 PM.

Which Astronaut Recently Got Fired From NASA for $1,600 in Fake Taxi Receipts?, Gizmodo

"Last December, an astronaut with NASA was fired for submitting over $1,600 in fake reimbursements for taxis they didn't take. And strangely enough, we don't know who it is. ... In the end, the NASA OIG office suggested something that has been redacted (we're going to guess termination, but who knows?) and the astronaut ultimately resigned at some point in December 2016. Curiously, the exact date of resignation has also been redacted."

Keith's note: (sigh) Gizmodo can't make up their mind. "Fired", "Termination", "Resigned"? Pick one. Oh wait - the OIG says that the astronaut "resigned". While the end result is more or less the same (the astronaut no longer works at NASA) resigning is not the same as being "fired" or "terminated". People get caught at NASA doing lots of things and they often keep their jobs.

As to who the astronaut is, well ... check out this press release which refers to an astronaut who retired in December 2016: "Astronaut Cady Coleman Leaves NASA". My sources tell me that Cady Coleman is indeed the astronaut mentioned by the OIG. This was not exactly a secret at NASA HQ over the past few months. I was not going to say anything - until I read the FOIA response that Gizmodo got. I'm sort of at a loss for words. Think of the millions of people who'd love to be a NASA astronaut - and then this is how one of them throws away that job.

Oh yes: I can guarantee you that the time that the OIG spent on this investigation in terms of their own staff's salaries was a lot more than $1,600. Just sayin'

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Bridenstine at NASA - and Pace at NSC - Expected Soon

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2017 9:08 AM.

Keith's note: Sources continue to report that Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is still the Administration's preferred choice to become NASA Administrator and that they expect to nominate him in the coming weeks. Former Rep. Bob Walker stated several weeks ago in a public event that the executive order creating (reinstating) the National Space Council has been drafted and that it is awaiting signature. The only thing holding that executive order up is identifying an Executive Secretary for the National Space Council. Sources report that the odds-on favorite for that position is veteran space policy expert Scott Pace.

Right now routine matters such as these positions are at the mercy of the growing chaos at the White House. Then, of course, once Bridenstine is nominated the issue of his confirmation arises and the same White House chaos - and Congress' response to it - is likely to drag out routine business even further. Once this all settles out you can expect a change in the composition of Trump political appointees at NASA HQ as well - so hang in there folks.

- Bridenstine Had To Be Re-Interviewed For Top NASA Job, earlier post
- Likely NASA Administrator Bridenstine Speaks, earlier post
- National Space Council Announcements Soon?, earlier post
- Bob Walker: National Space Council Executive Order Already Written, earlier post

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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 25 May 2017 - Training for a Dragon Arrival

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 25 May 2017 - Training for a Dragon Arrival Video in Story

The Expedition 51 crew trained today for the next SpaceX Dragon mission due early next month. The five crew members also explored how microgravity affects their bodies to help scientists keep astronauts healthy in space.

More updates...

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