Keith's note: If you look at our calendar for the coming week you will see an unusual number of meeting, briefings, seminars, etc. here in Washington, DC. Everyone will be talking about where they they think space (e.g. NASA) policy and science will be going in the next few months and years. Many events conflict with one another in terms of timing. Many more of these events overlap in terms of their participants with a high quotient of the usual suspects in attendance saying the same thing over and over again to one another. Guess what: no one knows what is going on. Seriously. From the White House on down, no one knows where space policy is going. And the more someone tells you that they do know, the more suspicious you should be of what they say - starting with me. Its a mess folks.
March 2017 Archives
Obama's science diaspora prepares for a fight, Washington Post
"Phil Larson, who focused on space exploration issues at OSTP under Obama for five years before leaving for SpaceX and now the University of Colorado, said the way Obama and Holdren emphasized science and technology left a mark on those who worked there. "Their time at OSTP specifically under President Obama and Dr. Holdren galvanized a whole new kind of passion from them, because they saw it being paid attention to at the highest levels. ... The Obama administration was considered among the most science-friendly administrations in history, so it isn't surprising that his staffers at the center of that effort feel a sense of mission that carries beyond the White House gates. And now, with the Trump administration's assault on science taking form, that mission is rapidly increasing in scope and magnitude."
Keith's note: Erik Noble, a member of the Trump Beachhead team at NASA headquarters has departed NASA for a position at NOAA. Noble had been serving as Chief of Staff on the 9th floor. No word yet as to who is replacing him in that position.
"Officially, Congress must make a decision on the ISS by 2024, when its funding expires. But beyond routine maintenance and the occasional orbital boost, the station needs no major repairs. "As it happens, some stuff is functioning vastly better than imagined," says Keith Cowing, editor of NasaWatch (a NASA watchdog), who helped design the station as a NASA employee in the 1990s. "Maintenance is little things like replacing batteries when they die or tightening valves when they need it."
... Even with a government-mandated nonprofit charged specifically with ginning up business, nobody has found a killer app for low Earth orbit. Yet. Cowing sympathizes with NASA's funding plight, and says it shouldn't indefinitely tie up resources on a mission barely beyond the stratosphere. But he doesn't think that should seal ISS's fate. "NASA has spent decades building and operating this thing, has gotten it just to the point where it can actually start doing things, and all of a sudden you want to scrap it all and start building something else," he says. What a waste.
... Plus, buying it lets you do whatever the hell you want. "I like to refer to the ISS as the Undiscovered Country, both in the Shakespearean and Star Trek-ian sense," says Cowing. "It's completely underutilized."
"Because FAA has not yet addressed the identified weakness in the cost-of- casualty amount used in its calculation, the federal government may be exposed to excess risk. FAA has identified potential steps to update the information the cost-of-casualty amount is based on, including seeking public input on whether and how to revise the amount, but the agency does not have a complete plan for updating the cost-of-casualty amount. Federal internal control standards require that agency management respond to risks related to achieving the entity's objectives, define how to achieve objectives, and set time frames for achieving them. FAA has not responded to the risk identified in using outdated data as the basis of the cost-of-casualty amount because FAA has prioritized other work, such as reviewing launch license applications, ahead of this issue."
"Users of a popular online service that helps the public acquire legal access to government records face new hurdles when petitioning NASA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The National Aeronautics Space Administration has begun rejecting public records requests from users of FOIA request-filing service MuckRock, which doesn't provide what the agency calls a "personal mailing address," even though the requirement appears to have no basis under the law. Last week, following nearly two months of back and forth, NASA formally denied the Daily Dot access to any records--which may or may not exist--related to White House decrees affecting its use of social media and other forms of communication. The request, filed less than a week after Trump's inauguration, was sent using MuckRock's online submission system and contained MuckRock's mailing address. "Please be advised, that everyone submitting a FOIA Request via Muckrock, who are not a staff members [sic] must provide their personal mailing address when submitting a requests [sic]," NASA's FOIA officer, Josephine Shibly, wrote in a letter to the Daily Dot on March 10."
"At least four confidential SSL documents were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee working at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the data is stored as part of an ongoing SSL partnership with the U.S. space agency, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia."
"The documents contain information about SSL's technology for robotic satellite assembly, repair and servicing; research and development efforts; financing and business plans; procurement and performance strategies; customer development; and subcontractor and vendor relationships, the suit said."
Marc's note: Things are heating up in the Orbital ATK / SSL (MDA) commercial battle for satellite servicing. Orbital fired the employee in question but the damage is done. NASA is conducting an investigation. More to follow.
Northeastern puts NASA's Valkyrie space robots through its paces, TechCrunch (video)
Keith's update: At one point in this video Valkyrie stumbles and requires the cables to catch her - unlike the Boston Dynamics robots that can do just about anything and retain perfect balance and run around, jump, etc. But yes, I said "her". Despite NASA JSC PAO's reversal and subsequent stern denial about this NOT being a female-inspired robot, the robot at Northeastern is referred to by the student in this film as "she" and "her" dozens of times. See "NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses)" Question 7.
"NASA reportedly produced three other R5 models. One was held in-house, and NASA "awarded two as research loans to Northeastern University and nearby MIT, while a fourth was acquired by Scotland's University of Edinburgh. According to NASA, in the finalist round, "each team's R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak."
Keith's note: Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of these two college teams to fix NASA's broken Valkyrie R5 robot it cannot walk by itself and needs to be held up by straps. And one R5 will be competing against another R5 - not against other robots. The last time NASA's R5 competed with other agency's droids NASA came in last place. Meanwhile, check out the dancing, hopping, running droids - without tethers - at Boston Dynamics. These commercial products are much more sophisticated - and NASA could buy them - but then what would Ellen Ochoa's JS robotics hobby shop do?
- The Robot NASA Should Buy To Replace Broken Valkyrie, earlier post
- Hey NASA: This Is The Droid You Were Looking For, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- Previous R5 postings
"A-level student Miles Soloman found that radiation sensors on the International Space Station (ISS) were recording false data. The 17-year-old from Tapton school in Sheffield said it was "pretty cool" to email the space agency. The correction was said to be "appreciated" by Nasa, which invited him to help analyse the problem. "What we got given was a lot of spreadsheets, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds," Miles told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme. The research was part of the TimPix project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gives students across the UK the chance to work on data from the space station, looking for anomalies and patterns that might lead to further discoveries. During UK astronaut Tim Peake's stay on the station, detectors began recording the radiation levels on the ISS."
"In partnership with Professor Larry Pinsky at the University of Houston, and in collaboration with NASA, the Institute for Research in Schools is able to release data from the Timepix detectors on board the ISS and give students and teachers the opportunity to take part in this research."
"It is the policy of the United States to support full and complete utilization of the International Space Station through at least 2024. What happens to the ISS after that date remains an open question. The hearing will examine the range of choices facing our nation and the impacts of those various options."
- [Statement] William Gerstenmaier, NASA
- [Statement] Mary Lynne Dittmar, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration
- [Opening Statement] Eric Stallmer Commercial Spaceflight Federation
- [Statement] Robert Ferl University of Florida
- Rep. Babin Opening Statement
- Rep. Bera Opening Statement
- Rep. Johnson Opening Statement
- Hearing Charter
"Yet, despite maintaining a presence in space, Roscosmos has been beset with corruption, mismanagement, and crony capitalism that is the hallmark of the larger post-Soviet economy. In a tech sector that needs to meet very high standards, these problems have led the workforce on the ground to cut corners. In the past six years, the Russian space program has seen an abysmal 15 rocket failures. ... On top of the onslaught of failures, the sanctions and the precipitous plunge in oil and gas prices have hobbled the Russian economy. In response, the government slashed space spending for the next 10-year cycle by more than half, from $64 billion to $21 billion. As a point of comparison, NASA is expected to spend about $18.8 billion in 2017 alone. The European Space Agency; Japan; and, of course, China spend much more on space annually than the Russians, while the Indians are catching up."
- Russia Begins To Reduce ISS Participation, earlier post
- Russian Space Follies, earlier post
-ULA Gets A Russian Christmas Gift From Sen. Shelby, earlier post
"Today President Donald Trump signed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 into law. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation reaffirms Congress' commitment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and space science and exploration."
Potholes Trump Space In Trump Space Policy, earlier post
"[Trump's] answers to Aerospace America's questions align with comments he made during a campaign stop in Manchester, NH in November. There he offered what has become perhaps his most memorable remark about space exploration, that it is important, "but we have to fix our potholes."
Keith's note: Likely NASA Administrator nominee Rep. James Bridenstine (R-OK) will be the luncheon speaker at a Washington Space Business Roundtable event in downtown Washington DC at noon EDT today. I plan to be live tweeting his comments and responses to questions from the event on Twitter at @NASAWatch
"Through the TCAT and CLM processes, NASA has established a framework that should improve the Agency's ability to manage its technical capabilities and help make the difficult decisions regarding infrastructure and personnel required to optimally position itself for current and future missions. However, after more than 4 years, the Agency has yet to make many concrete decisions about its technical capabilities - for example, to consolidate or dispose of assets. Rather, most decisions have been iterative steps on the path to making actual determinations about technical capabilities, leaving us concerned that the Agency's efforts have been slow to produce meaningful results."
"[Alan Stern] scoffed at Pluto's new classification, "dwarf planet" -- "How can an adjective in front of a noun not describe the noun?" Stern asked. "There are dwarf stars but they're still considered stars..."
... "The paper that [Kirby Runyon will present this week isn't a formal proposal, like the one that was devised at the IAU. He's not putting his definition up to a vote, or even suggesting that it should replace the IAUs. If he did, it's unlikely that the IAU would adopt it. [Carolyn] Porco, who is one of the lead scientists for NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, pointed out that she is a planetary scientist and has no problem with the IAU's orbital dynamics-based definition. She also noted that astronomers already have a perfectly serviceable term for the kind of body Stern and Runyon are trying to describe: "world." In her view, the only scientists who want to make those places planets are people who study Pluto."
Keith's note: What is Stern's point? he says "There are dwarf stars but they're still considered stars". OK, by his logic a "dwarf planet" is therefore still considered a "planet". Hooray: Pluto is a planet. So why does Stern continue to moan and groan about whether or not Pluto is a planet? Stern and his small cadre of Pluto loyalists complain incessantly about the 2006 IAU vote to reclassify Pluto - yet in the ensuing decade no one has seen fit to try and formally submit a better definition to the IAU and have a discussion that involves the entire space science community. They'd rather just complain, it would seem, since that attracts more attention - to Pluto.
Mr. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA
Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration"
Keith's 16 March note: Notice that there are only two witnesses. The first witness is NASA's AA for government human space activities. The second witness is the mouthpiece for large aerospace companies who build the big things that the first witness wants to build. No representation whatsoever has been offered to the commercial sector (SpaceX, Blue Origin etc.) that is supposed to be a partner with NASA in the utilization of space.
Maybe Congress is afraid to hear what the private sector is going to do without NASA's help.
Keith's 20 March update: The witness list has been revised to include:
"Mr. Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
Dr. Robert Ferl, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida"
"This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary's suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request. These aides report not to the secretary, but to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House. The aides act as a go-between on policy matters for the agencies and the White House. Behind the scenes, though, they're on another mission: to monitor Cabinet leaders and their top staffs to make sure they carry out the president's agenda and don't stray too far from the White House's talking points, said several officials with knowledge of the arrangement."
Keith's note: FYI Rick Dearborn used to work for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and it is the Alabama mafia inside the Trump Administration that is holding up the naming of a new NASA Administrator (among other things).
"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."
Keith's note: I asked NASA PAO "Which "Earth-viewing instruments" on DSCOVR are affected by the White House Budget Blueprint? How much does it cost NASA to operate these "Earth-viewing instruments" on DSCOVR on an annual basis? Who operates these "Earth-viewing instruments" on DSCOVR? NASA? A university? A contractor? A combination thereof?"
NASA PAO replied: "NASA provided two Earth-observing instruments on the DSCOVR spacecraft: the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR). NASA funded the refurbishment and recalibration of these two instruments and is now supporting the analysis of their data. The operation of all instruments on DSCOVR is part of NOAA's responsibility as mission lead. The NASA DSCOVR budget is for EPIC and NISTAR data analysis/processing. In last year's federal budget request, NASA sought $1.7 million for this activity in FY17, $1.2 million in FY18, and $1.2 million in FY19. (See pg ES-35: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fy_2017_budget_estimates.pdf)."
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.
"Under President Trump's budget proposal, federal employees at many agencies may need to acquaint themselves with a lately dormant but still much-feared term: Reduction in Force. If Trump's budget is enacted into law, it would hike defense spending by $54 billion - and pay for it with an equal cut in domestic spending at other federal agencies. Trump has said that reducing the size of the federal workforce -- better known by its acronym, RIF - is a top priority. It may not be as easy as Trump would like. Laying off federal workers requires going through a formal process that can be lengthy, expensive and disruptive to the workplace, experts say. And various legal and union rights may come into play, as they do for the similarly complex process of firing a federal worker for misconduct."
What is a RIF? A federal worker's guide to the Trump budget, Washington Post
Keith's note: @ChelseaClinton retweeted @NASAWatch. Oops.
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible for increasing understanding of the universe and our place in it, advancing America's world-leading aerospace technology, inspiring the Nation, and opening the space frontier. The Budget increases cooperation with industry through the use of public-private partnerships, focuses the Nation's efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would help achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy. 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."
NASA budget would cut Earth science and education, Washington Post
"President Trump's first federal budget seems to make good on his campaign promises to shift NASA's focus away from Earth and toward space. But it doesn't reveal where he thinks the agency should be headed -- to Mars, the moon or elsewhere. The total cut to the Earth-science budget is $102 million, or 5 percent of the program's annual budget, and it almost exclusively targets missions aimed at understanding climate change -- the ocean monitoring program PACE; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3; the Deep Space Climate Observatory; and the CLARREO Pathfinder, which measures heat in Earth's atmosphere. Also on the chopping block: the entire NASA Education office, which runs camps and enrichment programs, provides internships and scholarships for young scientists, and oversees efforts to support women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields."
"Trump's vision for NASA calls for some dramatic shifts from the priorities the space agency pursued under President Obama, according to a broad budget outline the White House released Thursday. Line-item details on the administration's proposed spending plan for NASA and other executive branch agencies are expected in the coming weeks."
"While more detailed budget information will be released in May, we have received a top line budget number for the agency as part of an overall government budget rollout of more than $19 billion. This is in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation, even during these times of fiscal constraint. While the budget and appropriation process still has a long way to go, this budget enables us to continue our work with industry to enhance government capabilities, send humans deeper into space, continue our innovative aeronautics efforts and explore our universe."
Keith's note: NASA made out far better than other agencies. But the cuts to Earth science at NASA, NOAA and elsewhere clearly show a climate change denial trend. Equally as troubling are the cuts within agencies to education projects as well as to the education department itself. You do not need to worry about NASA Earth Science stuff being sent to NOAA since their cuts are even more extreme than NASA's. Lightfoot makes no mention whatsoever of the cuts to Earth science - he just says that "some missions are not going to go forward".
NASA's Acting Administrator also seems to think it is OK to demolish NASA's education office and that somehow NASA will make that function work elsewhere. No. There is a clear message being sent to government agencies and the White House and Congress will be watching to make sure that no education efforts are going on at NASA - just like they already make certain that NASA does not "advertise" its accomplishments to the American people.
But Robert Lightfoot wants you to think that this is all good news. NASA's leaders no longer lead. They just roll over.
"An Air Force doctor who won a NASA contest for a spacesuit poop problem filed for a patent and plans to go to a conference next month where his smart idea could come closer to reality. It turns out the solution he developed might have applications other than in space. "One part that might have some application on Earth is the diaper solution," Air Force Col. Thatcher Cardon, commander of the 47th medical group at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, told Air Force Times in an interview published this week. "One of the problems with diapers is once you have them on, you can't take them off with the suit." Cardon told the Times he planned to speak about the idea at an incontinence engineering conference in April. "We'll see what people think," he said. Last month, Cardon won a $15,000 first-place prize in NASA's "Space Poop Challenge," which was launched to find how to best manage bodily waste needs in a spacesuit for someone wearing it for nearly a week."
"The adult-sized diaper with extra absorption material is used because astronauts cannot remove their space suits during long operations, such as spacewalks that usually last for several hours. Generally, three MAGs were given during space shuttle missions, one for launch, reentry, and an extra for spacewalking or for a second reentry attempt."
Keith's note: (My) silliness aside, this may actually be a rather significant NASA spinoff when you consider the growing number of elderly patients who require assisted living and skilled nursing support.
Space is bigger than NASA, Scott Pace, The Hill
"During the presidential campaign, Vice President Mike Pence promised to "relaunch the national space policy council headed by the vice president." The White House does not, and has never needed, a space council to supervise NASA, but it does need a way to combine the separate strands of national security space programs, diplomatic engagement, commercial competition and civil space cooperation with a unity of national purpose and effort. Leadership in space is vital to protecting our own interests and creating a more stable international order in which the United States continues to be the indispensable nation. The Trump administration has the opportunity to "Make America Great Again" in space, not by repeating the past or relying on others to lead, but by working across traditionally separate departments and agencies and creating new partnerships for commerce, security and exploration. A national space council, led by Vice President Pence, can make this a reality."
"U.S. astronaut Joseph M. Acaba will fly to the International Space Stations (ISS) as a third crew member of the Soyuz MS-06 spaceship. His flight will be financed by Russia's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia as debt repayment to US' Boeing under the joint project Sea Launch, a source in the Russian space industry told TASS on Monday. ... According to earlier reports, under an amicable agreement reached by Energia and Boeing as part of debt repayment under the Sea Launch project, the Russian corporation will give the American side five seats aboard Soyuz spacecraft, in particular one seat in 2017, one seat in 2018, and an option on three seats in 2019. Energia's debt to Boeing was 330 million US dollars, as was ruled by a California court in 2015. In the summer of 2015, the sides reached an amicable agreement where Energia undertook to repay its debt by means of works and new projects."
NASA Uses Bait and Switch Tactics To Buy Soyuz Seats, earlier post
Keith's note: How sneaky. Neither SpaceX or Boeing are going to have their crew services ready in time to replace Soyuz in the near term. So NASA uses Boeing to buy more Soyuz seats. Its not the first time that they have bought Soyuz seats. But NASA omits mention of the word "Soyuz" in the title of the presolicitation notice. No one will notice, right NASA? But wait - there's more - RSC Energia gave Boeing 5 Soyuz seats to settle a business deal gone sour (Sea Launch) - and Boeing can charge NASA whatever whatever they want for these seats. And if CST-100 flights are delayed further and more Soyuz seats are needed then Boeing can sell extra seats to NASA. Boeing makes money from NASA one way - or the other - unless SpaceX gets into space with their crewed Dragon.
"Nye saves his most optimistic hope for last. He argues that the Trump administration should increase NASA's budget by 5 percent each year for the next five years. That way, the agency will have the money it needs to execute its ambitious human spaceflight program and science programs. It's an incredibly hopeful thought at a time when NASA is currently working on the president's budget request for 2018. And all signs point to NASA facing a potentially large cut in its funding from the new administration. It's something that the Planetary Society is aware of. "Obviously we knew based on hints and signs that funding was going to be a challenge, but at the same time, the space community has to be honest about what it needs if it's going to succeed," says Dreier. "We should not change our message because the non-defense discretionary part of the budget may shrink. The 'five over five' plan is totally realistic in terms of overall spending."
Keith's note: All discretionary government spending faces extreme budget cuts and yet Bill Nye and The Planetary Society somehow expect NASA to be exempt from this government-wide budget reformatting effort - and get an increase - every year for 5 years - for they things that they want to be funded - all while NOAA's satellite data systems will be gutted, large number of government employees will be laid off, and tens of millions of people face the prospect of losing their health care? Really Bill?
"Preliminary budget documents have also shown that Trump advisers have also looked at cutting the Environmental Protection Agency's staff by about 20 percent and tightening the Commerce Department's budget by about 18 percent, which would impact climate change research and weather satellite programs, among other things. Trump and his advisers have said that they believe the federal workforce is too big, and that the federal government spends - and wastes - too much money. They have said that Washington - the federal workers and contractors, among others - has benefited from government largesse while many other Americans have suffered. Federal spending, they have argued, crowds the private sector and piles regulations and bureaucracy onto companies. Trump's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, has said Trump will lead a "deconstruction of the administrative state." On Friday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Obama loyalists had "burrowed into government." Last month, Trump said the government would have to "do more with less."
"There are practical issues, too: Musk has a reputation for overpromising on timelines. SpaceX has never launched anyone into space. The Falcon Heavy has never flown. Moreover, NASA officials would be unlikely to embrace a SpaceX moon flyby unless it clearly fit into the agency's long-term plans for deep-space exploration. What does Elon want to do with this - is it just a one-off tourist flight?" said NASA's top official for human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, in an interview with The Washington Post. "I don't see it as advancing human presence in the solar system."
Keith's note: NASA has never launched SLS and has never put people into space in Orion. SpaceX has launched (and recovered) multiple Falcon 9 rockets (the components of a Falcon Heavy) and has sent multiple Dragon spacecraft to/from the ISS on those same Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX may have delays but they always deliver what they promise. NASA doesn't have as good of a record in that regard. With regard to lower cost, reusable spacecraft flying around the Moon - without NASA funding - such as SpaceX is planning to - if Bill Gerstenmaier doesn't "see it as advancing human presence in the solar system" then he really should relinquish his position at NASA to someone who understands what is going on these days. Indeed, Gerstenmaier is going to have a very hard time fitting in with what the Trump folks want to do if he continues with the antiquated mindset he is so fond of promoting.
The NASA-Hollywood Bromance, Mens Journal
"Of course, not every film gets approval. You won't see any official NASA logos in Life, for example, about a martian life-form terrorizing the space-station crew. "It is not the kind of story that we wanted to tell," says [Bert] Ulrich. NASA's general policy is that a film needs to have a NASA story line in it, with clear value to the agency."
"Sony Pictures released this clip online and it gives us our first very good look at the terrifying, yet unassuming looking alien that will be terrorizing the suspiciously good-looking crew of astronauts in Life. In the video, we get to see the first ... The clip is super tense and doesn't give away too much, but definitely shows us that this exciting and groundbreaking discovery won't be all peaches and roses. It might actually result in lots of dead astronauts."
"At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama and Mac Thornberry of Texas, decided to push a little harder. On February 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine. ... Although both Rogers and Thornberry are members of the House Armed Services Committee, it is difficult to avoid ascribing at least some political motives to the letter. In January, Aerojet Rocketdyne said it would produce the AR1 rocket engine in Huntsville, Alabama, creating 100 new jobs near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Already, another Huntsville company, Dynetics, has become a subcontractor for the engine's main propulsion system. (A spokesman for Rogers didn't not reply to a request for comment)."
Keith's note: Of course Dynetics is where Steve Cook (who was on the Trump landing team at NASA HQ) and other Ares V/SLS veterans from MSFC went after they left NASA. And Cook is one of the usual suspects often seen in league with Doug Cooke, Dan Dumbacher, and Mike Griffin pushing their own Alabama-centric Apollo-on-Steroids notions in op eds and behind the scenes in Congress.
- Former NASA Leaders Who Still Ignore Reality, earlier post
- More False Memories About the Origin (and Cost) of SLS, earlier post
"NASA's Kennedy Space Center is soliciting members of the working news media for names of former colleagues they deem worthy of designation as a space program "Chronicler" at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida. "The Chroniclers" program honors broadcasters, journalists, authors, contractor public relations representatives and NASA Public Affairs officers who excelled in sharing news from Kennedy about U.S. efforts in space exploration with the American public and the world. Deadline for submissions is close of business Monday, March 20, 2017."
Keith's note: I just nominated the late Frank Sietzen for the NASA Chroniclers Award. Frank and I wrote a book together. He served as editor for Ad Astra Magazine, wrote for UPI, served as Charlie Bolden's speech writer, and covered all aspects of space exploration for decades. He lived and breathed space. Were he here with us today he'd be sitting on the edge of his seat covering all of the changes that are going on within the space community. Please consider nominating him. He earned it.Here's how.
"NASA Gregory Autry White House Liaison SES 1/20/17
NASA Brandon Eden Special Assistant to the Administrator GS-15 1/20/17
NASA Gregory Kennedy Senior Financial Advisor SES 1/20/17
NASA Rodney Liesveld Special Assistant to the Administrator GS-15 1/20/17
NASA Erik Noble Senior White House Advisor SES 1/20/17
NASA Jeffrey Waksman Special Assistant to the Administrator GS-15 1/20/17
NASA Jennifer Wang Special Assistant to the Administrator GS-15 1/20/17"
Keith's note:Greg Autry has departed from NASA.
"Unfortunately, the Obama administration issued a report last year that called for expansive regulations over all types of private space activities. The Obama administration also requested authority to conduct space traffic management. While the request was a non-starter, it does present an opportunity for Congress to streamline processes and enhance the strength of private sector space activities. For instance, stakeholders continue to raise concerns that they need certainty to attract investments and that they face pressing short-term launch dates and regulatory risks."
"The legislative proposal put forth by the previous Administration included direction such that "the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, is authorized to examine the planned and actual operational trajectories of space objects and to advise operators as appropriate to facilitate prevention of collisions." While this proposal is one of a number of potential approaches, it or another measure will be needed to ensure that space remains a productive environment for scientific investigation, commerce, and governmental activities."
"Last week, the White House released budget guidance to NASA and other government agencies for Fiscal Year 2018. In a normal, non-transition year this guidance - typically called "The Passback" -- would have been received shortly after Thanksgiving. Timing of this budget effort is not unusual during a transition year, but it is also important to point out that discussions are still underway. We're not yet at a point during this deliberative process where we have enough firm details to discuss the budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. You may have already heard some of what we are able to share. The Administration is preparing a Fiscal Year 2018 budget that would increase base military spending by $54 billion, to be offset by $54 billion in funds reallocated from the overall pool of resources available for domestic discretionary programs. While the final numbers for the agency and its programs are going through this give and take process, we remain confident in the Administration support for NASA."
- Heads Up NASA People: A Storm Is Coming, earlier post
- Collective Denial At Planetary Science: Vision 2050 Workshop, earlier post
- NASA Budget News Is Not Good, earlier post
House Approves NASA Transition Authorization Act
"The House of Representatives today approved the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S.442), which cleared the Senate last month. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation reaffirms Congress' commitment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and directs NASA to pursue a balanced portfolio of activities."
Keith's note: Like everyone else at Satellite 2017 today I was taking pictures with my cellphone. As I left the exhibit hall I wanted to get a nice panoramic image to show the huge audience and large number of exhibitors so that my readers could see how big an event this is. I was at the top of the escalators several hundred feet away from the nearest booth. Just as I started a female security guard loudly ordered me to stop and not to take any pictures. I asked why and she said "no pictures are allowed at this meeting". A moment later a male security guard came over, looked down at my badge and also said rather rudely "no pictures are allowed at this meeting". I replied "Really? Anywhere? Everyone here is taking pictures all over the place". His response "well they are not supposed to".
I went to the conference press office but they seemed to be unaware/uninterested in this new rule or what impact it would have on media coverage. No mention is made in the program of any such rule nor was I ever told not to take pictures. Several exhibitors actually encouraged me to take photos. This strikes me as an especially odd way to get one's message out. The fact that several companies were streaming live video via Periscope and the thousands of people taking selfies seems to escaped the notice of the photo cops at Satellite 2017. There is a lot of really cool stuff at this meeting. I had hoped to go back after lunch and talk at length to several companies and feature their cool stuff. But the rules, as barked at me by conference security, made that pointless since I would not be allowed to take any pictures of the hardware I wanted to feature. So I left.
"Jeff Bezos has a customer for his New Glenn launch vehicle, Eutelsat, which he announced at Satellite 2017 this morning in Washington, DC. While still years away from operations, Blue Origin has been making steady progress in a step-by-step fashion. It is this stead process 'in the right sequence' that Jeff Bezos views as being most important to his company's success."
Marc's note: At Satellite 2017 this morning Jeff Bezos unveiled a new video introducing the New Glenn rocket which follows in SpaceX's footsteps in returning the first stage for future reuse. Keith is at Satellite 2017 and you can follow his tweets @NASAWatch.
"The Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million, according to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety."
"During his confirmation hearing this week, the Trump administration's nominee for this cabinet-level [Director of National Intelligence] position, former Senator Dan Coats, assured the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he would remain vigilant in keeping the nation's reconnaissance satellites ahead of the global curve. The United States would also speed up the process by which it gets new technologies into space, he said. However, when citing an example to make this point, Coats pointed toward the launch of the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle earlier this month and its deployment of 104 satellites. "I was shocked the other day to read that the nation of India, on one rocket launch, deposited more than a hundred satellites in space," he said, according to Space News. "They may be small in size with different functions and so forth, but one rocket can send up [more than 100] platforms ... We've seen now 11 nations that have the capacity to launch instruments into space."
Keith's note: As reader MarcNBarrett notes: "I wonder, is he also aware that India has an orbiter around Mars?" -- or that they send a spacecraft to orbit the Moon ...
"The whole idea is that NASA is at the point of a spear," said Howard McCurdy, professor in the school of public affairs at American University. "It's like exploration of any terrestrial realm. This is the way the model is supposed to work." Indeed, the rapid ascent of Musk and other space industry pioneers is validation of the public-private partnership envisioned when Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. By the mid-2000s, NASA was signing contracts with the private sector to fill in for its own funding constraints and the impending retirement of the space shuttle program."
Does SpaceX's moon plan threaten NASA?, Florida Today
"I don't think NASA has anything to be worried about if somebody else can do it 50 years later," said Alan Stern, a former head of NASA science missions. "NASA has much bigger plans and ambitions to explore other worlds with humans than just a figure 8 mission around the moon."
Keith's note: For a commercial entity to mount their own mission around the Moon using their own hardware and finances is quite an unheard of accomplishment. But now that the Commercial Spaceflight Federation under CSF Chairman Alan Stern's leadership has caved in and supported the SLS (which will compete with the commercial heavy lift launch sector) it is obvious that more commentary dismissing commercial space achievements is to be forthcoming from CSF. Contrary to Stern's comments NASA should be worried about this SpaceX mission.
NASA currently does not have - nor has it had - the ability to send humans around the Moon for nearly half a century. Even if SpaceX's Moon mission slips a few years it is still likely that they will beat NASA back to the Moon - for a fraction of what it will cost NASA to do so - even if you add every single cent NASA has ever given SpaceX for everything it has ever done. Moreover SpaceX has an assembly line that can churn out and launch these Moon rockets at a rate and cost that NASA will never be able to match. Oh yes. ULA and Blue Origin are not exactly sitting on their hands either.
Oddly, CSF sends its chairman out to diminish this capability rather than to openly praise it.
- What's With All The Commercial Space News?, earlier post
- Alternative Facts And Snake Oil From The SLS Mafia, earlier post
- Commercial Spaceflight Federation Sells Out and Endorses SLS (Update), earlier post
"The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government's premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post. The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and "coastal resilience," which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas. NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which would be hit by an overall 18 percent budget reduction from its current funding level. The Office of Management and Budget also asked the Commerce Department to provide information about how much it would cost to lay off employees, while saying those employees who do remain with the department should get a 1.9 percent pay increase in January 2018. It requested estimates for terminating leases and government "property disposal.... "
... The biggest single cut proposed by the passback document comes from NOAA's satellite division, known as the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which includes a key repository of climate and environmental information, the National Centers for Environmental Information. Researchers there were behind a study suggesting that there has been no recent slowdown in the rate of climate change -- research that drew the ire of Republicans in Congress.
Washington Post: Trump Proposing 17 Percent Cut to NOAA, Space Policy Online
"The Trump Administration is at the beginning of the process for formulating the FY2018 budget. A broad "budget blueprint" will be released very soon, but the detailed request is not expected for several weeks. The numbers in the four-page memo are subject to change before the request is submitted to Congress, and, in any case, the President's request is just that, a request. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the "power of the purse," deciding how much money the government will spend and on what."
"Here at the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) we provide secure and timely access to global environmental data and information from satellites and other sources to promote and protect the Nation's security, environment, economy, and quality of life."
"The FY 2017 President's Budget Request for NESDIS is $2,303.7 million. This request funds operations of current satellites and maintains acquisition and launch schedules for NOAA's flagship satellite programs. The request also ensures reliable and accurate long - term weather, ocean and coastal, and geophysical data and information that are critical for businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies."
Keith's note: A lot of people in the private space sector are annoyed (some are angry) with the Trump folks since they directed NASA to look into the government side (crew on SLS EM-1 flight) of a proposed government/commercial return to the Moon. Then the "Commercial" Spaceflight Federation sold its soul and jumped on board to support SLS. There was a handshake sort of deal in place between the Alabama mafia and the commercial space folks. Apparently that deal fell through.
Suddenly Elon Musk announces his trip to the Moon. Then Virgin Galactic reveals a major restructuring and expansion of its launch plans. Then Robert Bigelow starts talking about his lunar plans. And then someone at Jeff Bezo's Blue Origin leaks something to Jeff Bezos' Washington Post about Jeff Bezos' new Amazon-delivery-to-the-Moon service. Was all of this done (in part) out of annoyance with Trump's people (probably just a little) - or is this finally the break-out in commercial space that so many people have been hoping for?
Regardless of the motivation(s) or timing, a lot of very interesting and important things just happened in commercial space. Too bad their trade group, CSF, has sold out to the Dark Side.
Trump's call for human space exploration is hugely wasteful and pointless, opinion (or something), LA Times
"Among the dangers of cavalier calls for publicly-funded human space exploration is that monumental Big Science programs like the space race tend to suck resources away from any science left on the outside looking in. A multitrillion-dollar program to put an American on Mars, endorsed by a president, will get first call on the federal budget, leaving programs aimed at disease cures, chemistry, and physics far behind."
Keith's note: Here we go again. "Today few can summon up the names of shuttle astronauts ..." Where's the poll where someone actually measured public knowledge on this and published the results? The author just proclaims this as it it were a commonly accepted fact. "Multi-trillion dollar"? (sigh) No one has ever published an actual cost estimate for anything NASA has done or might do that uses the word "trillion" - other than references that lazy journalists make to references that other lazy journalists make to references to other lazy journalists make etc.
It is quite obvious that the author spent absolutely no time whatsoever researching the facts behind the topic he has written about. He set out to write an anti-humans in space article and found tired old quotes that people have been dredging up for years and uses them out of context, and then adds in unsubstantiated alternative facts to make his point - or so he thought. I am surprised he did not mention Tang or Teflon as NASA spinoffs. If you are going to try and debunk the notion of humans in space don't just dial it in - do some actual research - and don't just repeat the tired old unsubstantiated rants that others have been writing for years.
I am, by no means, a paragon of any manner or form of virtue when it comes to online behavior, but ...
"Handle is a research robot that stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4feet vertically. It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principlesfound in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds."
"To the president and his supporters who see a bloated bureaucracy with lots of duplication and rules that choke jobs, the budget cuts are a necessary first step to make government run more efficiently. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said this week that non-military spending will take the "largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration." To prepare for that possibility, agencies are preparing to shave 10 percent off their budgets, on average. And words like buyouts, furloughs and RIFs (or reduction in force) - government-speak for layoffs - are now being tossed around at the water cooler as civil servants face the possibility of massive downsizing. Some of these strategies were used when Ronald Reagan was president and others more recently to meet the goals of budget caps known as sequestration."
Keith's note: As you all know it is much harder to lay off government employees than contractor employes. Yet that now seems to be what is in the plans. But if NASA is faced with making substantial cuts in its expenses then you can be assured that contractor personnel will bear a large part of the pain. Contractor employees have far fewer protections than civil servants. Also, in the past when budgets have gotten tight NASA has delayed solicitations, delayed and decreased the number of awards, and the cut the value of awards. With huge cuts in its budget looming on the horizon, you can expect that NASA procurement practices will respond to these cuts with surprising speed.
At the NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop this week I asked a panel a question noting that there were "some very depressed people up on the 9th floor working on the budget passback to OMB". I asked the panel "what sort of box outside of which they needed to be thinking they had yet to think outside of" when it came to dealing with these looming budget cuts. The panel dodged the question and paradoxically started to talk about doing more things rather than less. I reiterated the harsh reality that goes with a President who "thinks potholes are more important than planets". Alas, the panel continued along their merry way in denial with some throw away lines such as "clearly we need to be doing things cheaper".
A storm is coming folks. You cannot hide under your desks and try and to ride it out. Not this time. You need to be preparing contingency plans and be ready to try things that you have never tried before to accomplish the tasks you have been given to do. Otherwise those things will not get done.
"Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are pleased to announce Virgin Orbit, a new commercial space company, and the appointment of Dan Hart as the first President of the newly created company. Virgin Orbit will offer flexible, routine and low cost launch services for small satellites via the LauncherOne system. Virgin Orbit's activities were previously conducted as a division of Virgin Galactic."