June 2017 Archives

NAS Report: Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division

"Recently, PSD reorganized the R&A program to provide better alignment with the strategic goals for planetary sciences. The major changes in the R&A program involved consolidating a number of prior program elements, many of which were organized by subdiscipline, into a smaller number of thematic core research program elements. Despite numerous efforts by PSD to communicate the rationale for the reorganization and articulate clearly the new processes, there has been significant resistance from the planetary science community and concerns in some sectors regarding the major realignment of funding priorities. ... This report explores whether any specific research areas or subdisciplinary groups that are critical to NASA's strategic objectives for planetary science and PSD's science goals are not supported appropriately in the current program or have been inadvertently disenfranchised through the reorganization."

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop gets called out by NASA over healing stickers, CNN Money

"NASA just called out Goop, the movie star's lifestyle brand, over wearable healing stickers that it promoted on its website. In a post on Thursday, Goop said that the stickers, which are sold by a group called Body Vibes, are "made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut's vitals during wear." The wearables, which cost about $60 for a pack of 10, come "pre-programmed to an ideal frequency" and "promote healing" by tackling "imbalances," the website claimed. But NASA told CNNMoney it doesn't use carbon material to line its suits, and its current spacesuit has no carbon fibers in it at all."

Body Vibes

"Body Vibes use an exclusive material originally developed for NASA. This waterproof, carbon fiber compound can hold specific frequency charges that naturally stimulate the human body's receptors."

Interior Secretary Advocates For Cutting Up To 4,000 Jobs At Agency, Huffington Post

"In written testimony submitted Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke noted that President Donald Trump's 2018 budget request would slash funding by $1.6 billion - to $11.7 billion - and support just shy of 60,000 full-time staff, a reduction of roughly 4,000."

Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, OMB

"This memorandum provides agencies guidance on fulfilling the requirements ofthe Hiring. Freeze PM and the Reorganization EO while aligning those initiatives with the Federal budget and performance planning processes. It requires all agencies to: Begin taking immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions and cost savings, including planning for funding levels in the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Blueprint; Develop a plan to maximize employee performance by June 30, 2017; and Submit an Agency Reform Plan to OMB in September 2017 as part of the agency's FY 2019 Budget submission to OMB that includes long-term workforce reductions. An initial, high-level draft ofthe Agency Reform Plan is due to OMB by June 30, 2017."

Keith's note: NASA was required to draft and submit a plan to OMB by the end of the month. Sources report that it is done and is in the process of being prepared for submission to OMB. If the Secretary of Interior can talk about his agency's plan to reduce their workforce in open congressional hearings, one would think that NASA could - and should - do the same. Given that NASA fared much better than virtually all of the Federal government in terms of its FY 2018 budget proposal, the need to resort to draconian personnel cuts is simply not there. Indeed, if Congress does what it did in response to the FY 2017 budget request, NASA will be funded more or less at current levels.

As such, sources say that NASA's plan is what all these plans are: a bunch of words in response to direction from the White House about things no one really expects to implement. But there has to be a lot of words - and the right words too - so as to make OMB think that NASA actually has a plan. At most NASA will feature buyouts, early outs, and reliance upon attrition. That's all. As long as NASA thanks the President for the opportunity to #MakeNASAGreatAgain the details are not all that important.

But NASA is like all other agencies: they never pass up an opportunity to do one thing in response to being asked to do another thing. So you may see a bunch of phone book revisions and reporting changes within/between field centers and directorates and HQ tossed into the mix since no one is really going to notice - and it lets NASA HQ hide some things it has been wanting to do anyway. Orion, SLS, and ISS workforces may get tweaked as a result - with HQ pointing to these changes as their way of dealing with budget problems and schedule slips. The net result is going to be more of the same - with a flat budget.

Of course, even if Congress is generous to NASA, doing the math and adding up all of the things NASA is on the hook to do - plus all that it wants to do - will show that the money is simply not there. Not to worry. That won't really be an issue until after the new administrator is in place and the actual FY2019 budget is submitted.

Mutual of America Life Insurance Company Appoints Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa to its Board of Directors

"Mutual of America Life Insurance Company, which specializes in providing retirement products and related services to organizations and their employees, as well as individuals, announced the appointment of Dr. Ellen Ochoa to its Board of Directors. Mutual of America partnered with Korn Ferry's Board and CEO Practice to conduct a national search, which resulted in Dr. Ochoa's appointment."

Ellen Ochoa Appointed to Dallas Fed Board

"The Federal Reserve Board of Governors has appointed Ellen Ochoa of Houston to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas board of directors. She will fill an unexpired term ending Dec. 31, 2017, and will be eligible for appointment to a full three-year term on the board. Ochoa previously served as chair of the Bank's Houston Branch board."

JSC Center Director Ochoa Elected to Deathcare Product Company Board, earlier post

"Service Corporation International, the largest provider of deathcare products and services in North America, today announced that it will nominate Dr. Ellen Ochoa to be elected to the SCI Board of Directors at the Company's Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held in May 2015."

Johnson Space Center's director to serve on National Science Board

"Science has always had an advocate in Dr. Ellen Ochoa, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center. Now, it is official, as Ochoa has been named the final member of the National Science Board's (NSB's) class of 2022."

Keith's note: That's four companies/organizations for whom Ellen Ochoa serves on the board of directors while also serving as Center Director for NASA Johnson Space Center. If she has the time to do all of this external stuff perhaps she is not spending enough time on her day job. Why is it that the vast majority of NASA employees are not allowed to moonlight like this - but Ochoa is allowed to do so? Just sayin'.

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Commercial Space

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement." Note: Postponed until after the July 4 recess.

The Implications of the Growing Small Satellite Market for Launch and Key Applications (webcast)

"The Center for Strategic and International Studies will be hosting a two-session event to highlight and amplify awareness of the implications of emerging space technologies, particularly those provided by smaller space systems. These discussions will examine implications from the perspective of both changes in the way space missions are executed and in the way that transportation to space is provided."

This Week at NASA: Mid-Year at NASA (video), NASA

"2017 is shaping up to be another year of unprecedented exploration, amazing discoveries, technological advances and progress in development of future missions - and we're just six months into the year. Here are some of our top stories of 2017, so far - Mid-Year at NASA."

The Journey to Mars seems to be pretty much dead, Ars Technica

"The other planet not mentioned in the video is Earth, which NASA's charter in 1958 specifically calls upon the new federal agency to study. NASA has made some significant discoveries about Earth this year, from clouds and ice to the radiation belts that surround the planet."

Keith's 4:37 pm EDT note: This video is suddenly offline. The older one used to be here. First Eric writes his article and tweets it. I tweet a reply and post a link here at 12:26 pm EDT. Then a few hours later NASA just takes the video offline. FWIW we posted a link to it on SpaceRef last Saturday - and no one at NASA had a problem with it prior to that. Oops.

Oh but wait: they posted a revised version here. They removed the old SLS footage were it talks about "commercial" rockets and replaced it with a Falcon 9 launching followed by Orion orbiting the Moon. Meanwhile, the NASA infomercial narrator guy says "future crews will launch on American-made commercial spacecraft and will carry out exploration missions that will take humans farther out into space than ever before." One small problem: Orion is not "commercial". And its service module is made in Europe. If they re-edited the video to change the SLS clip to show a Falcon 9 (commercial launch vehicle) then why did they not include a Dragon or Starliner as well - unless, who cares?

The Goals, Rationales, and Definition of Planetary Protection: Interim Report, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

"Avoiding forward and back contamination in missions to Mars can be viewed as addressing contamination that travels from Earth to Mars and back. From its origin in the 1997 SSB study and its implementation in COSPAR and NASA documents, the third rationale has been associated with preventing a "false positive" in a sample returned to Earth from a solar system body. However, molecular biology has advanced considerably in the last 20 years, and the committee needs to investigate more thoroughly whether new methods in molecular biology make false positive and negative results in biohazard assessments conducted on returned samples far less likely."

Waiting for liftoff at the Spaceport, Santa Fe New Mexican

"The concept of space tourism was all the rage when Spaceport America was pitched to New Mexico taxpayers a decade ago as a gateway for rich adventurers willing to pay $250,000 for a ride to the heavens. But as the state has waited year after year for the first of what were supposed to be regular flights into space from the nearly $220 million facility, people behind the program are reimagining it more as a hub for the commercial spaceflight industry rather than space tourism. That change in approach could require pouring millions more in public money into a place that plenty of critics have called one of state government's biggest boondoggles. Dan Hicks, new executive director of the spaceport, says the spaceport must construct additional facilities and offer more services to draw more business."

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet. With the release of this catalog, derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified."

Amendment may keep Iran-Russia sanctions bill from stopping ISS launches from Wallops, Daily Press

"An Iran-Russia sanctions bill threatened to torpedo Orbital ATK's commercial resupply missions for NASA from Virginia to the International Space Station until an amendment cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday to remove the bill's unintended consequences to civilian agencies. Senators voted overwhelmingly -- 94 to 6 -- to approve the amendment after several members, including Virginia's Mark Warner, described the "unintentional harm" the original bill could inflict on "crucial science, civil and commercial space missions" that support NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research."

NASA Leadership Update

Air Force budget reveals how much SpaceX undercuts launch prices, Ars Technica

"One person who has reviewed the Air Force budget and is sympathetic to the new space industry said the following: That is a tad more expensive than the amount ULA would ever tell taxpayers they are paying for one of its launches, and it illustrates the extent to which those taxpayers are forced to subsidize ULA in order to maintain the fiction that it is a competitive private sector company. Essentially, then, while ULA has talked publicly about lowering the costs of its boosters for the commercial sector and the federal government, the US Department of Defense is suggesting in its budget that ULA's costs are as high as they have ever been."

The Tiny Edit That Changed NASA's Future, The Atlantic

"But in this year's bill, Congress added a momentous phrase to the agency's mission: "the search for life's origins, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe." It's a short phrase, but a visionary one, setting the stage for a far-reaching effort, that could have as profound an impact on the 21st century as the Apollo program had on the 20th. NASA's new directive acknowledges that we are tantalizingly close to answering perhaps the most fundamental question of all: Are we alone in the universe?"

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017

"The Administrator shall enter into an arrangement with the National Academies to develop a science strategy for astrobiology that would outline key scientific questions, identify the most promising research in the field, and indicate the extent to which the mission priorities in existing decadal surveys address the search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe."

Keith's note: As much as I support the wording in this authorization act, authorization acts contain all kinds of interesting language that is usually ignored or slow-boated by NASA - especially if money is required to comply with the language - money that has not been appropriated. If reports (especially National Academy reports) are called for by the authorization bill, the reports are conducted by the usual suspects, take several years to create, and when they are delivered everyone has forgotten why they were asked for and/or the results have been overtaken by events. This 2017 NASA authorization act references an earlier NASA authorization act from 2010 which called for a National Academy report that was not started until 2012 and reported back to Congress in 2014. No one really pays much attention to the report since it punted on virtually every important task it was given to do.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017

"In accordance with section 204 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (124 Stat. 2813), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, through its Committee on Human Spaceflight, conducted a review of the goals, core capabilities, and direction of human space flight, and published the findings and recommendations in a 2014 report entitled, ``Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration''."

Yet Another Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post (2012)

"Net result: the committee's advice will be out of synch with reality and somewhat overtaken by events having taken a total of 3 years, 7 months to complete. Oh yes: the cost of this study? $3.6 million.. The soonest that a NASA budget could be crafted that took this committee's advice into account would be the FY 2016 budget request. NASA and OMB will interact on the FY 2016 budget during Fall 2014 and it won't be announced until early 2015 - 4 1/2 years after this committee and its advice was requested in the NASA Authorization Act 2010."

NASA closing out Asteroid Redirect Mission, Space News

"ARM called for sending a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid, where it would grab a boulder a few meters across from the asteroid's surface and return it to cislunar space. Astronauts flying on an Orion spacecraft would then visit the boulder, performing studies and collecting samples for return to Earth. The mission, though, struggled to win support since its introduction in 2013, particularly in Congress, where members were skeptical that the mission was on the critical path for NASA's long-term goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. At recent hearings on NASA's 2018 budget request, members showed no interest in reversing plans in the proposal to cancel the mission."

Keith's note: On the heels of the ARM cancelation NASA has come up with a new large project - the mini-space station "Gateway" located near the Moon - under the same strange justification as ARM i.e. that it is necessary in order to send humans to Mars.

NASA ARC Internal Memo: National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) Incident

"Last Friday evening at about 6 p.m., the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) suffered significant damage when debris passed through the drive system during a test. There were no injuries, but the facility will require extensive repairs. The NFAC is leased and operated by the US Air Force, and we are coordinating closely with them in all aspects of the response. The Ames Safety and Mission Assurance Office and Protective Services, among others, are assisting to ensure that our campus is safe and accessible. At this time, we do not see a need to restrict access to the roads and buildings adjacent to the NFAC, but we are monitoring the situation closely and will take action when needed to safeguard our people and assets. We will share information regarding the incident, our response, and any impacts on the rest of the Center as they become available."

World View Announces First -Ever Multi-Day Stratollite Mission, World View

"In need of a spaceflight partner to literally launch KFC's new flagship spicy Zinger chicken sandwich to space in an entirely new and different way, KFC and creative agency Wieden+Kennedy approached World View about participating in a historic flight to the edge of space. Intrigued by the idea, World View saw this as a great opportunity to publicly demonstrate the Stratollite's capabilities to a mass public audience, while simultaneously financing a portion of the vehicle's development program. Thus, the World View and KFC partnership was born, aiming to usher in a new era of stratospheric discovery and chicken sandwich space exploration."

Keith's note: Really - the only partner they could find for this "historic flight" was KFC - and the only payload they could fly to almost-space is a chicken sandwich? I'm not so sure if the promise of commercial space is what everyone says it is going to be if this is what passes as ground breaking use of otherwise promising hardware. Remember that pizza that Pizza Hut delivered to ISS in 2001? Of course you don't. (Pizza Hut is owned by Yum! Brands Inc. the same people who own KFC, by the way). Then again, if KFC uses its its global marketing prowess then a lot of people may know that there is a chicken sandwich almost in outer space. Will that translate into ticket sales for World View?

Now ... if they had a competition wherein students from around the world created artwork or did something else that did not focus only on cold fast food on a balloon - something that was then flown with an education and outreach program weaved into the marketing - then maybe this could have been a memorable moment. No word yet as to whether the sandwich (530 calories, 1,330 mg of sodium, 26 g of fat) will even be edible when it returns from 4 days in almost-space.

Keith's note: A few moments ago NASA Wallops completed a webcast. The audio and video were not in synch, video was jittery, and they had bad microphone issues. One might get the impression that Wallops PAO has never done a webcast before. Someone needs to buy them more bandwidth or better hardware. They also need to practice doing these things and write down their audio/video settings. Their mics were constantly being mixed by someone - room echo came and went, there was a loud audio hum, and lots of line static. And the audio dropped completely when audience members asked questions or panelists answered them. It was like they were hitting random buttons on their mixing panel to see what sounded the best. I did live webcasts from Everest Base Camp 8 years ago at 17,600 feet using a satellite unit I carried on my back and had far fewer problems than this.

For this press event, unlike all other NASA centers, there was no dial-in for offsite media. You had to send your questions in by email or text. Why is it that Wallops can't do a simple conference call? Teenagers do it on their cellphones.

Here is the question I submitted: "Now that you've had a chance to do all of the accounting, can you tell me what the complete, final cost of repairing damage at NASA Wallops/M.A.R.S. from the Orbital ATK 2014 mishap was? How much did of this amount NASA contribute? How much did Orbital ATK contribute? How much did the State of Virginia and/or M.A.R.S. contribute?" Follow up: "Has NASA required Orbital ATK to increase contingency funds it sets aside and/or its level of insurance coverage in the case of future launch accidents?"

Answer from NASA NASA: "It was a little $15 million over 11 months. It was split three ways."
Orbital: "we have modified our insurance and contingency funds to be in compliance with regulations"

NASA does not even know how the cost of paying for the damage was divided up - unless they mean that NASA, Orbital ATK, and M.A.R.S. each paid exactly one-third i.e. $5 million. If that was the case then why couldn't NASA just say that - as I asked them to do?

Oh yes, in opening the media event, Center Director Bill Wrobel went through a long list of things that Wallops and Orbital ATK do - and did so glowingly: rockets, planes, balloons. One thing he did not mention: Wallops just dropped an expensive payload from one of its balloons the other day at high altitude without a parachute. They had webstreaming and social media issues last night too for one of their sounding rockets. Wallops just does not seem to be ready for prime time.

BETTII Balloon Mission Ends in Failure

"At the conclusion of the mission Friday, June 9, NASA conducted an analysis of atmospheric conditions and a survey of the operational area as part of a safety analysis in preparation for flight termination. Once the balloon reached a safe flight termination area, characterized by sparse population but still relatively accessible via roads, flight controllers at CSBF sent flight termination commands to separate the parachute/payload from the balloon. After the commands were sent, the connection between the payload gondola and parachute failed. The payload separated from the parachute and free fell to the ground in a remote, wooded area northeast of Sterling City, Texas, resulting in the loss of the payload."

Three Night Time Science Flights Planned from Texas Balloon Launch Facility

"BETTII, launching via a 39.57-million-cubic-foot scientific balloon comparable in size to a football stadium, is flight ready with a launch attempt planned Thursday, June 8, pending weather. This initial flight is focused on the testing and characterization of the payload to lay the groundwork for future flights studying star formation and the nuclei of galaxies. Data acquired with BETTII will be complimentary to observations with space observatories such as Herschel and the James Webb Space Telescope."

Keith's note: I have asked NASA Wallops PAO - UPDATE - responses included below:

- Did the BETTII payload perform as planned and collect data prior to detachment?
Response: This was the first BETTII flight, an engineering flight to test out systems. In that vein, the payload performed very well with nearly all systems performing exactly as expected. With the data received through radio telemetry, the science team is confident they have sufficient information to complete the payload test analysis.

- Was BETTII data sent back by radio or was it recorded on devices within the payload?
Response: Some data was sent down via radio but the majority was stored onboard in solid state drives. The drives have not yet been recovered; we expect to recover the drives in a few days.

- If BETTII data was recorded on devices within the payload is that data stored in an armored/hardened device that can survive a non-parachute descent and impact from the payload's planned release altitude?
Response: The drives were protected for a nominal landing only; we expect to recover the drives in the next few days and remain hopeful that we'll be able to recover data from them.

- How much did the BETTII payload cost and who funded this payload?
Response: BETTII was funded through the NASA Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Science (ROSES) program, winning proposals in 2010, 2015, and 2016. Altogether, funding given to this project was about $7M.

- Will another BETTII payload be built to replace the hardware that was lost?
Response: It's unknown at this time, but the science team is hopeful they'll have another opportunity for this mission.

Collateral damage from cosmic rays increases cancer risks for Mars astronauts, University of Nevada Las Vegas

"Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell's nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers," Cucinotta explained. "We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues' microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumors or cancers." Cucinotta said the findings show a tremendous need for additional studies focused on cosmic ray exposures to tissues that dominate human cancer risks, and that these should begin prior to long-term space missions outside the Earth's geomagnetic sphere."

Accepting More Personal Risk In Space Exploration, earlier post

"People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver."

National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Budget Hearing

House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
2:00 PM
Watch

Hearing: An Overview of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Budget for Fiscal Year 2018

"The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing titled An Overview of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Budget for Fiscal Year 2018. The purpose of the hearing is to review the administration's fiscal year 2018 (FY18) budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Witness List: Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot."

watch

Prepared statements: Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, Ranking Member Bera,
Subcommittee Chair Babin, Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot

SST Committee Approves the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 simplifies and strengthens the outdated space-based remote sensing regulatory system. At the same time, this bill enhances U.S. compliance with international obligations, improves national security and removes regulatory barriers facing new and innovative space companies."

Support Grows for the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space,and Technology announced growing support for H.R. 2809, the "American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017." The legislation was favorably reported out of committee today by voice vote. Keep reading to see what they're saying."

Keith's note: This press release has quotes from 19 people representing New Space companies or organizations. Only 2 females are quoted. New Space is still a boy's club. Just sayin'.

Smith Introduces American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

"Rep. Bridenstine: "Providing maximum certainty with minimal regulatory burden for the commercial space industry has been one of my top priorities in Congress. The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act moves us in the right direction. Years of uncertainty over which government agency has the responsibility to authorize and supervise commercial space activity has created a chilling effect in the industry, hindering capital formation and innovation. Chairman Smith, Chairman Babin, and I authored this bill to provide a clear, transparent process to meet Outer Space Treaty obligations while ensuring America is open for business in space."

Markup of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017

Opening statements: Committee Chairman Smith, Subcommittee Chairman Babin, Rep. Bridenstine, Ranking Member Johnson

Could NASA and SpaceX cooperation turn into competition?

"... So, it came as a surprise to NASA when SpaceX founder Elon Musk held a conference call in February announcing plans to use a powerful rocket that hasn't yet flown to sling private tourists around the moon next year--an ambitious timeline, according to Mary Lynne Dittmar who represents some of SpaceX's competitors through the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. "If you're putting all the schedule pressure on, you are essentially -- you're automatically assuming more risk. You're automatically creating an environment where you are operating at higher risk because you have to meet the deadline," Dittmar explained. Dittmar said she is concerned about the 2018 deadline for SpaceX."

Keith's note: Meanwhile Mary Lynne Dittmar's favorite rocket - the one she's paid to promote (SLS) is years behind schedule, over budget, and fraught with ongoing software and manufacturing errors. SpaceX launches (and lands) rockets on a regular basis. Falcon Heavy is composed three of these rockets strapped together and will launch soon. SLS will not launch until 2020 (maybe) and then not again for 2-4 years. Infrequent launches are one easy way to generate a lot of programmatic risk. So ... who has more in-house, currently functional operational experience under their belt, Mary Lynne? Certainly not the SLS folks.




Keith's note: This is an interview I did on "Newsday" on the BBC World Service 7 June 2017 on NASA's FY 2018 budget and proposed cuts made to Earth and climate missions by the Trump Administration.

Keith's note: Sources report that NASA MSFC has concluded that accelerating hardware originally intended for EM-2 such that it could be used on EM-1 would not be ready in time. So they have decided to try and flight-certify qualification test articles for flight on EM-1 instead. The goal is to try and have an SLS vehicle ready to fly during Trump's first term in office. Since 2018 is off the table that means 2019 and perhaps 2020. The operative word is "try".

- NASA Decides Against Putting Crew On EM-1, earlier post
- SLS LOX Dome Dropped And Damaged Beyond Repair (Update), earlier post
- Newt Gingrich Thinks SLS May Become a Museum Piece - Soon, earlier post
- Earlier SLS news

Vice President Pence to Visit NASA's Johnson Space Center for Astronaut Class Announcement

"The new astronaut candidates could one day be performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil aboard spacecraft built by American companies, and traveling to the moon or even Mars with the help of NASA's new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket."

Keith's note: Well Duh, isn't that why NASA picks astronauts? Odd that NASA needs to remind the media what astronauts do. Oh yes NASA just sort of formally announced that it wants to send astronauts back to the Moon - and also to Mars - with a shrinking budget (shh!).

Mike Pence Abruptly Cancels PBS Interview After Comey Testimony Is Released, The Wrap

"Just moments after Comey's prepared opening remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee were posted to the United States Senate website, Vice President Mike Pence abruptly canceled a planned interview with PBS Newshour. ... No explanation for the cancelation was given, despite the fact that the interview had already been promoted on the air on Tuesday. The announcement came as a surprise to PBS correspondent Miles O'Brien, who was already at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to interview the vice president."

NASA's Dark-Energy Probe Faces Cost Crisis, Scientific American

"Above all, the agency wants to keep WFIRST from following the path of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a successor to the Hubble telescope that is scheduled to launch in 2018. That project's cost spiralled from $1 billion in the early 2000s to $8.8 billion--and nearly exhausted NASA's astrophysics budget. The WFIRST review is meant to stave off that kind of meltdown. "This is a good time to take a look at the scale and scope of the mission," says Jon Morse, a former head of NASA's astrophysics division who is now chief executive of the BoldlyGo Institute, a non-profit space-exploration organization in New York City. "Nobody wants this thing to double in cost."

SpaceX Wins Launch of U.S. Air Force X-37B Space Plane, Reuters

"Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp will fly its first mission for the U.S. Air Force in August when it launches the military's X-37B miniature spaceplane, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Tuesday. Four previous X-37B missions were launched by United LaunchAlliance Atlas 5 rockets. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co . "SpaceX will be sending the next Air Force payload up into space in August," Wilson said during webcast testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. She later specified that the payload would be one of the Air Force's two X-37Bspaceplanes."

NanoRacks Prepares Activation of Historic Chinese Research, 25+ Experiments Onboard International Space Station, Nanoracks

"After Saturday's launch to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX's Dragon was successfully berthed and installed, bringing over 25 of NanoRacks' customer payloads to the ISS, including the first-ever Chinese experiment to be brought aboard Station. The launch of the Chinese experiment from the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), led by Professor Deng Yulin, has been in work for over two years now. Following complete U.S. government compliance, this fully commercial, educational Chinese experiment will study the effects of the space radiation environment on DNA and the changes in mutation rate. The experiment will run on Station for about 30 days and then return back to Earth aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The BIT NanoLab will remain confined to the NanoRacks platform on Station, and can in no way interface with the International Space Station or NASA's IT infrastructure and systems. There is no transfer of technology between NASA and China."

Keith's note: There is always a clever technical solution to overcome cumbersome political policies. People just have to want to find the solutions. Every time you do something like this, the original problem becomes less of a hindrance and is eventually replaced by new, usually unexpected, opportunities. Congratulations to everyone who made this happen. If we can calmly and professionally share a space station with the country who tried to steal our election then we can certainly share it with the country that makes our iPhones.

Charles Lundquist

Dr. Charles Arthur Lundquist

"Dr. Charles Lundquist, 89 passed away Saturday. Services will be announced by Laughlin Service Funeral Home."

Book chronicles 218 immigrants who boosted U.S. space program, UAH

"Dr. Lundquist's experience includes 50 years in high-level positions with the U.S. Army, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, NASA, and finally at UAH. He officially retired in 1999."

SpaceX Dragon Headed to The International Space Station

"Major experiments that will look into the human body and out into the galaxy are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following its 5:07 p.m. EDT launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket."

Keith's note: NASA KSC PAO just held a post-launch media briefing - one of many events they mentioned in a media advisory. But they did not bother to tell offsite media that there was a secret dial-in option - only a few of their media pals knew about it. Yet the media advisory gives detailed information about every other way to cover/follow the launch. All other NASA centers take the time to tell news media about dial-in opportunities in advance - but not KSC. This happened with a SpaceX CRS launch in 2016 too. NASA KSC PAO's excuse then was it was not part of their media template. They still do not seem to care about telling the media about these things.

I wanted to ask SpaceX and NASA what the cost of flying a refurbished Dragon is and if they do (or do not) pass on these savings to NASA and if there are any additional NASA requirements for certifying a previously-flown spacecraft to the ISS. Everyone is hyping how cool it is that a refurbished Dragon is being flown. OK, it is cool - but what does that actually mean? Is it actually cheaper to re-fly these Dragons or do the costs of NASA-mandated re-certification limit the actual cost savings?

Keith's note: On Wednesday 7 June VP Pence will be at JSC for the astronaut announcement thing. The next day there is a markup of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 in Washington, DC and Rep. Jim Bridenstine will be in attendance. Given all of the visibility one would think that the JSC event might be a good place to announce that Bridenstine is the Administration's choice for NASA Administrator. Then again this announcement might be better done as a stand-alone event back in Washington, DC. Bridenstine is term-limited and has now spent 25% of his last term in the House waiting to see if he is going to be nominated to run NASA - or not. Bridenstine has told people that he wants to stay in DC once his term is over. Of course, the best place from which to pick a post-Congress landing site is from your seat in Congress. How long will Bridenstine be willing to wait for the NASA job? Stay tuned.

Behold Jupiter

Keith's note: Stop what you are doing and watch this full screen with the sound turned to maximum so as to enjoy the sountrack excerpt from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Video by Gerald Eichstädt reconstructed from JunoCam Images and SPICE Data and Seán Doran who post-processed the original version, and added the sound track.

LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves Detected for Third Time, Caltech

"The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) has made a third detection of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened. As was the case with the first two detections, the waves were generated when two black holes collided to form a larger black hole. The newfound black hole, formed by the merger, has a mass about 49 times that of our Sun. This fills in a gap between the masses of the two merged black holes detected previously by LIGO, with solar masses of 62 (first detection) and 21 (second detection)."


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