June 2019 Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Wynn, CIO, NASA, GovernmentCIO

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

Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CASIS Clarifies Its Expansion Ambitions, earlier post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Armed Services strikes agreement on Trump's Space Force, Roll Call

"Democrats and Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have agreed to language that would create a streamlined Space Force -- a top priority of President Donald Trump's -- and plan to insert it as an amendment to the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill on Wednesday.... The bipartisan agreement calls for a single four-star general in charge of Space Force, compared with the three four-star generals the administration envisioned. It would also have fewer personnel transferred from other services into the Space Force, Smith said."

CASIS Announces Its Commercial Business Expansion Plans, earlier post (March 2019)

"CASIS Chief Strategy Officer Richard Leach made a presentation "Forecasting the 2024-2035 Space Based National Laboratory for Life and Physical Sciences Space Research" at the National Academies of Science Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space meeting yesterday. During that presentation he announced that CASIS aka The ISS National Laboratory has expanded their scope of operations. They are now going to expand well beyond the ISS even though their cooperative agreement with NASA prohibits such an expansion." (larger chart image)

Keith's note: Today CASIS Chief Strategy Officer Richard Leach made a presentation at an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce titled "Commercial Opportunities Aboard ISS National Laboratory and Future Gateway". I asked Leach about these charts which say "ISSNL can support a broad set of microgravity research platforms: new orbital platforms (crewed, crew-tended, free flyers, cis-lunar); sub-orbital vehicles; parabolic flight; balloons; drop towers; ground-based laboratories; and big data platforms". Specifically I asked how CASIS planned to proceed with this strategy in light of NASA's recent ISS commercialization plan and the fact that neither the CASIS charter or its cooperative agreement with NASA specify that CASIS can do these things. Leach replied that this chart was meant to show what CASIS could possibly do and that it would need new agreements and buy in from its stakeholders. Full audio below:

White House blocked intelligence agency's written testimony calling climate change 'possibly catastrophic', Washington Post

"White House officials barred a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony this week to the House Intelligence Committee warning that human-caused climate change is "possibly catastrophic." The move came after State officials refused to excise the document's references to federal scientific findings on climate change. ... White House officials took aim at the document's scientific citations, which refer to work conducted by federal agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ... The prepared testimony also notes that 18 of the past 20 years have ranked as the warmest on record, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, "and the last five years have been the warmest five."

Farewell To Long-term Climate Change Predictions, earlier post

Review: Apollo 8 - "First To The Moon"

"A new documentary on Apollo 8, "First To The Moon", by filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt has been released. I am not going to mince words: this is the finest space documentary I have ever seen. Full stop. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of first human landing on the Moon, everything Apollo is new again. While most of the attention is focused on the Apollo 11 mission one documentary focuses its gaze back in time to the first human mission to visit the Moon: Apollo 8."

Keith's note: It took NASA 4 hours to translate President Trump's original tweet ...

NASA to Announce Commercial Opportunities at International Space Station

"NASA will announce the agency's plans to open the International Space Station to expanded commercial activities at 10 a.m. EDT Friday, June 7, at Nasdaq in New York City. The news conference will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Participants in the news briefing are: Jeff DeWit, chief financial officer, NASA Headquarters, Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Robyn Gatens, deputy director, International Space Station, NASA Headquarters"

NASA Plan for Commercial LEO Development

"This plan, entitled NASA's Plan for Commercial LEO Development, addresses supply, demand, and lays out steps to date that have been taken. It also includes detailed steps that will be taken in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term."

NASA Opens International Space Station to New Commercial Opportunities, Private Astronauts

"This effort is intended to broaden the scope of commercial activity on the space station beyond the ISS National Lab mandate, which is limited to research and development. A new NASA directive will enable commercial manufacturing and production and allow both NASA and private astronauts to conduct new commercial activities aboard the orbiting laboratory. The directive also sets prices for industry use of U.S. government resources on the space station for commercial and marketing activities. Pricing released Friday is specific to commercial and marketing activities enabled by the new directive, reflects a representative cost to NASA, and is designed to encourage the emergence of new markets. As NASA learns how these new markets respond, the agency will reassess the pricing and amount of available resources approximately every six months and make adjustments as necessary."

Soliciting Proposals for Exploration Technology Demonstration and National Lab Utilization Enhancements

"This announcement is for the development of experiment hardware with enhanced capabilities; modification of existing hardware to enable increased efficiencies (crew time, power, etc.); development of tools that allow analyses of samples and specimens on orbit; enhanced ISS infrastructure capabilities (ex. Communications or data processing); concepts contributing to the development of a sustainable, scalable, and profitable non-NASA demand for LEO services; and specific technology demonstration projects as detailed below."

The Economics of Space: An Industry Ready to Launch, Reason.org

"This can all happen within the current NASA budget. In a commerce-based approach, the private sector develops the space industry and NASA and other government parties buy transport and other key services, such as on-orbit facilities, as customers of the private providers. NASA has already begun buying some space transportation in this manner, just as we currently do with other transportation systems. Extending this good start and making it more consistent is the only way, within the current NASA budget, that leads to comprehensive advancement in space."

Keith's note: (sigh) Yet another space "commerce" study (with good ideas) that wants NASA to pay companies to develop things. In other words NASA needs to be an anchor tenant. Got it. Next.

Elon Musk's satellites threaten to disrupt the night sky for all of us, opinion, Washington Post

"if we let Silicon Valley disrupt the night sky, we will never get it back."

Keith's note: News flash - humanity started to change the nature of the night sky half a century ago. Without satellites we'd not know about weather until it happened. We'd have to use paper maps again. And we'd know far less about our planet and the universe. To truly bring back pristine night skies everywhere we'd have to forgo streetlights all together. Oh yes: A hundred thousand jets fill Earth's skies with lights and artificial clouds every day and cars and industry further ruin the atmosphere's clarity. They'd have to go too.

But this opinion piece singles out one company and goes after Elon Musk because he (and others) dare to offer the same level of Internet access developed nations have to everyone else on the planet. We have decided to become a planetary civilization - one that aspires further to become a spacefaring civilization. If we all believe in such a thing then that means that we will need to continue to transform our world so that everyone benefits.

There have been a number of op ed pieces like this that lament the loss of a dark sky for summer hikes with the kids. Yet none of them stop to ponder the question as to what these lights in the skies will mean to large portions of humanity: access to resources and opportunities that everyone else has had for decades - centuries.

It is confusing to see people such as the author of this opinion piece - who profess admiration for space exploration - ignore the obvious trappings that come with becoming a species that dares to go beyond the skies outward to the stars. Ancient peoples looked at those lights in the sky and immediately populated them with beings and created myths about their travels. Those stories served as the inspiration for innumerable feats of exploration. Astronomy has adapted to all manner of distracting things in the skies. It will adapt to these distractions as well.

We have gone from studying the lights in the night sky to building them. And in some cases, we now live on these lights in the sky. We have decided to become a planetary civilization. There is no turning back. Ad Astra.

NASA Internal Memo: Website Modernization and Enhanced Security Protocols (PDF)

"Currently there are an estimated 3,000 public-facing NASA Web sites, yet the top 10 sites receive 80 percent of all Web traffic. Additionally, some NASA partners operate Web sites on our behalf outside of the Agency, creating redundancy and accumulating unnecessary costs. Not only does this duplication of information cause confusion, each Wen site provides potential access for a cyber-attack on NASA's assets. The shutdown earlier this year gave us a clear view of the cyber vulnerabilities inherent in operating thousands of Web sites. We need to take steps to protect our resources in a hostile cyber landscap, examine our digital footprint, reduce costs, and maximize the effectiveness of communications efforts. In addition to security risk, multiple sites dilute our effectiveness in communicating key messages about our missions."

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

Some stories about NASA's creaky, mismanaged, and needlessly redundant cyber infrastructure - from just the past year:

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

George Jeffs

John Healey

John Healey

"John Healey was an American aerospace executive manager best known for his role in the redesign and manufacture of the command modules for the Apollo program after the catastrophic launch pad fire that took the lives of Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee on January 27, 1967 (Apollo 1).He died in March 2019 at the age of 97."


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