October 2021 Archives

How Commercial Companies Are Advancing Space Exploration, Newsy

"He says, 'I want to die on Mars, just not on impact,'" editor for Spaceref.com Keith Cowing said. "I've known Elon forever, for like 20 years. I met him when he was actually a kid and I was a lot younger with less gray hair. So, for him to do this doesn't surprise me. He's always just been as awed by this stuff as anybody else, which I think is kind of important when you're trying to do audacious things."

Revised budget reconciliation package reduces NASA infrastructure funds, Space News

"A new, scaled-back version of a spending package released Oct. 28 sharply reduced the money allocated to NASA infrastructure and climate change projects, while continuing to exclude funding for a second Artemis lunar lander. ... The revised Build Back Better Act, like earlier versions of the budget reconciliation package, included nothing for the future development of lunar landers for the Artemis program. Nelson sought $5.4 billion in the reconciliation package in the spring so the agency could fund future lunar lander service procurements through its Lunar Exploration Transportation Services program."

Has Anyone Seen Bill Nelson's NASA Budget Windfall?

"I thought Senator Administrator Bill Nelson had this all figured out. Seriously, he would not have freelanced on his plan to get a NASA windfall without OMB approval, right? Meanwhile SLS is not going to launch until the middle of next year; there's only money for one HLS contract (despite all of the lawsuit activity); and the money needed just to keep the status quo in place is simply not there. Does Bill Nelson have a Plan B? We'd all like to see it. Stay tuned."

Bill Nelson Says He's Discovered A New Pile Of Money For NASA

"Earlier this week Bill Nelson suggested that NASA could solve all of its financial woes by getting $10-11 billion out of the new Infrastructure bill. Well, tick tock. Republicans balked at the overall bill so President Biden came back with a smaller counter offer. There will likely be more. It looks like there is a lot less money in the cookie jar - and R&D is no longer going to be a priority. As I mentioned below, Nelson's faith-based budget plan really does not have a Plan B in case the infrastructure windfall he hopes for does not happen. Well ... half a trillion dollars just disappeared from the infrastructure bill that we were all looking at when Nelson testified."

NASA Has No Plan To Spend The Infrastructure Money. But Who Cares.

"And so on. Its a mess. NASA has no cohesive, consistent plan to identify what facilities need to be demolished, repaired, upgraded, or replaced. They have never had such a plan - nor will they. Just imagine the spending spree that is about to unfold as every NASA center director grabs their bucket of infrastructure money - with their congressional delegation shoveling the money in without looking."

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 29 October 2021: Heading Back To Untersee Oasis

"While at Untersee Oasis, we will continue our studies of Lake Untersee and it's stunningly beautiful and interesting ecosystem. This year we will again be diving beneath its thick, 3.5 m perennial ice-cover to make observations and collect samples to depths of ~30 m."

Exploration Production and Operations Long-Term Sustainability, NASA

"The primary goals enabling this vision include 1) moving ESD programmatic implementation to a construct in which industry owns vehicle production and the flight hardware, and leads the ground operations services, 2) production, operations, and maintenance costs at a substantial savings of 50% or more off of the current industry baseline per flight cost with a flight rate of one crewed flight and potential for at least one cargo flight per year (costs are inclusive of Orion/payload and system integration but exclusive of the Orion hardware, payload hardware, government personnel and government facility costs), and 3) a programmatic construct that is a launch service (across 2 contracts) available for additional customers, including other government agencies, international partners and commercial entities."

Keith's note: This RFI is hilarious. NASA wants people to submit ideas as to how to save "50% or more off of the current industry baseline per flight cost" when NASA itself has never said what a SLS flight costs. So ... how exactly does one submit a proposal to cut that unknown cost in half? And who would want to own this launch system for that matter since it was mandated by Congress - a rocket that took a decade longer and billions over budget to build? How predictable is its long term use when it took so long to build it in the first place? It has not even flown once.

And who is the customer? Oh, its NASA, of course, which has already shown its chronic willingness to spend vast amounts of money on this system - and bet their entire Artemis architecture on it. That means that any contractor knows going into this that they have NASA right where they want them. And if the contractor underbids or the rocket does not perform - and NASA is stuck without a ride - who will pick up the tab? Why NASA of course. This whole RFI is a fool's errand. I can't wait to see who responds.

Keith's note: The official Twitter account for NASA SMD's Astrobiology program @NASAAstrobio posted several tweets earlier today about a Astrobiology paper - and then deleted the tweets. Then they reposted the tweets. Today's NASA article refers to a NASA-authored paper "Call For A Framework For Reporting Evidence For Life Beyond Earth". FYI this paper has actually been openly available since 23 July 2021 on on arXiv and is still online. I posted a link to this paper on Astrobiology.com back when it was posted in July. Yet in this web posting about the article NASA makes no mention of a link to this paper - in an article they wrote that tells you about this paper being published in Nature. Strange.

NASA tweeted a link to the free online version of the article but then they tweeted a link to the pay-only version at Nature. If you ask NASA PAO they say that no one at NASA is supposed to link anywhere that sends business to a company. But by telling taxpayers to go to a link at Nature - one that overtly asks for money - they are doing exactly that. NASA makes up rules that it then ignores.

Update - 6 hours after they first told people about this article on a new Astrobiology Framework, NASA now posted a link to a shared article but you cannot download the article or copy text from it. Taxpayers paid for this document but they are not being given true open access. In other words look but don't touch. Luckily there is an earlier free version online here at arXiv.

The bigger question is why NASA SMD PAO did not post a link to this paper when it was posted online in July - both on Astrobiology.com and also on arXiv - a scholarly website - both with free global access.

Why is NASA so shy about linking to the external (real) world when it comes to mention of what it is doing in Astrobiology? In this case they post a paper - about their own Astrobiology program - and do so online such that anyone could read it for months but they don't tell anyone. Why write the paper in the first place if you are not going to tell anyone about it?

But wait, there's more: NASA JPL posted this release today "How to Find Hidden Oceans on Distant Worlds? Use Chemistry" which is overtly focused on a key aspect of NASA's Astrobiology program as it searches for life on ocean worlds here and in other solar systems. Yet NASA can't seem to use the word "Astrobiology" in the release or link to NASA's Astrobiology program. Oh yes, the article announcing the information contained in this release "Unveiling shrouded oceans on temperate sub-Neptunes via transit signatures of solubility equilibria vs. gas thermochemistry" was also posted on astro-ph.EP on 10 August 2021 - more than 2 months ago. Again, anyone on Earth with Internet access could read this article for months yet NASA only got around to mentioning it now? Oddly this NASA press release can link to a NASA-funded article posted on arXiv while the other NASA web article I mentioned cannot link to a previously posted article on arXiv. Where is the consistency?

NASA has a rather strange way of telling the external world about what it is doing in Astrobiology - a program with the charter to study one of the most important questions in science. It tries to hide its own papers that people have already read and can't even link to its own Astrobiology program. NASA has a weird habit of hiding some of its best - and most profound news. How is this in the best interest of the research community or the taxpayers who pay for all of this?

As you can see from these posts in just the past several years, NASA's Astrobiology Program neglects itself and has a bad habit of hiding its own good news,

- Bill Nelson Talks About The SETI Program That NASA Does Not Have
- Astrobiology News That NASA's Astrobiology Program Ignores
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Continues To Neglect Itself
- NASA Tries To Explain Its Astrobiology Shyness, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Works Hard To Ignore Itself, earlier post
- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post
- NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post
- Getting Serious About Astrobiology, earlier post
- More NASA Astrobiology News That Ignores NASA's Astrobiology Program, earlier post
- NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words, earlier post
- NASA's Big Astrobiology Mission To Europa Makes No Mention Of Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA Makes Big Astrobiology Mission Announcement Without Saying "Astrobiology", earlier post
- NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?, earlier post
- 3 New Life Forms Discovered On The Space Station. NASA Yawns In Response., earlier post
- Sadly NASA Forgets Its Most Amazing Missions, earlier post
- That Time NASAWatch Scooped The Water On Mars Story, earlier post
- This Is Not The Planetary Protection Headline That NASA Needs Right Now (Update), earlier post

Keith's note: This is going to be a real paradigm shift - and big (old) aerospace is not ready for it - and NASA has no idea whatsoever as to how it should respond.

New Orbital Destination Opens Up Space For Business And Travel, Creating New Ecosystem

"Blue Origin and Sierra Space today announced plans for Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit. The station will open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future. Orbital Reef is backed by space industry leaders and teammates including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University."

Mary Lynne Dittmar Testimony - Hearing: International Collaboration and Competition in Space: Oversight of NASA's Role and Programs

"Axiom is the first (and so far, the only) company to develop a new station destined for low Earth orbit (LEO) without government funds for development, launch, and operations."

NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station, NASA

"On Feb. 28, 2020, NASA awarded Axiom a firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with a maximum potential value, inclusive of options, of $140 million over an up to seven-year ordering period consisting of a five-year base period and a two-year option. NASA has selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the International Space Station as the agency continues to open the station for commercial use."

Keith's note: If you read the Space Act Agreement between NASA and Axiom you will see that it states that Axiom will get the funds to actually build and launch its first module. But let's apply a simple sanity test to all of this. NASA is giving Axiom $140 million for data and other lessons learned from this effort. If the claim that $140 million from NASA to buy data from the development of this module has nothing to do with construction, would Axiom have gone ahead and built and launched the module and docked it to the ISS without the NASA money? If there is no connection whatsoever between the $140 million and the development and launch of the Axiom module - as Axiom would have you think - then the answer should be "yes", right? You then have to ask if investors would have even been interested in Axiom without the $140 million financial vote of confidence from NASA. Also, $140 million goes a long way to develop data and lessons learned, while serving to keep a brand-new company going before it has any actual product. Just saying.

As for the question of whether NASA should be priming the pump to spur commercial use of space - sure, why not. It is a good role for NASA and the commercial crew/cargo experiences show that there is clear value for all involved. As such there is no reason why NASA should not help with ISS and LEO operations either. But splitting hairs and claiming that no government assistance was given - when in fact it was - a massive amount - simply muddies the reality of what is going on - and how it is happening - and leaves people shaking their heads.

Nanoracks, Voyager Space, and Lockheed Martin Teaming to Develop Commercial Space Station, Nanoracks

"Nanoracks, in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT], has formed a team to develop the first-ever free flying commercial space station. The space station, known as Starlab, will be a continuously crewed commercial platform, dedicated to conducting critical research, fostering industrial activity, and ensuring continued U.S. presence and leadership in low-Earth orbit. Starlab is expected to achieve initial operational capability by 2027."

Lucy Asteroid Mission Launched

"NASA's Lucy mission, the agency's first to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Over the next 12 years, Lucy will fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency's first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. Lucy will investigate these "fossils" of planetary formation up close during its journey."

George Washington Carver Science Park - The World's First Science Park in Space, Nanoracks

"Now, given the increasing maturity of the LEO ecosystem, it is time for Nanoracks to take the next step in driving LEO utilization operations. After intensive investigation and discussion with industry experts, I am delighted to announce that the Nanoracks collection of hardware on the ISS will henceforth be operated as a Science Park. A Science Park is a well-known business model that brings together companies and organizations in a shared endeavor, and I am thrilled to share our Science Park will be named for the great American agriculture scientist, Dr. George Washington Carver."

Q&A: The World's First Science Park in Space With Jeffrey Manber

"Nanoracks could not imagine a more aligned mission. The GWC Science Park will conduct operations based on our lessons learned from over a decade on the ISS, combining them with the wisdom of seasoned science park operators, to create a seamless experience for all our customers aboard the ISS. Taken together, we will begin developing the systems, procedures, and metrics to facilitate additional capital, allow a more sophisticated dialog with NASA and CASIS, and ultimately, prepare for the coming era of commercial space stations."

To Understand Low-Earth Orbit, Look to Mt. Everest

"Getting to low-Earth orbit is a lot like climbing Mt. Everest. It's not impossible, but it's difficult, expensive and risky. As experience grows, the difficulty of reaching the destination drops steadily, and the risk becomes more manageable."

"...the commercial era of Everest expedition rises with the ability of the general public to pay commercial outfitters to climb Everest at a fraction of the cost it took to climb in the 1920s."

"Ordinary people can pay commercial outfitters ot climb, making Mt. Everest more acceptable and less expensive to summit."

Keith's note: What a mess. For starters anyone who spent even a bare minimum amount of time researching this article and talking to actual climbers such as NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski, or read regular news from the Everest region might learn something than what was written.

In a nutshell they'd learn that the risk to climbers has increased as access has expanded due to crowding on the mountain; an increased number of under-skilled people putting themsleves and others at risk by trying to climb a mountain they are not capable of climbing; increased pollution at base camp and on the mountain which affects climbers and residents; and continued economic stresses on the residents of Nepal who are grossly underpaid for the risks that they take. Oh yes "ordinary people" cannot - and should not ever - be climbing a mountain like this - regardless of cost or affordability. But they do - in greater numbers - thus negating whatever point about risk reduction that the author is trying to make.

It is also rather weird that NASA would put an article online about Everest up and not mention the fact that a NASA astronaut scaled it, another NASA astronaut died trying to climb it, and that a piece of the summit of Everest has been on board the International Space Station for more than a decade.

FYI I spent a month living at Everest Base camp in 2009 supporting a person who summitted and witnessed injuries and deadly avalanches with my own eyes.

And also, FWIW I have spoken to a number of astronaut mountaineers and they will tell you that the risks involved in climbing a mountain like this are vastly more complex to deal with and the effort itself is equally more physically arduous than sitting in a rocket while it does all the work of taking you to and from space. If you are going to compare these things you need to actually compare them for what they are.

But this sort of sloppy writing seems to pass as acceptable at NASA PAO these days. If this article reflects the way NASA is actually planning its Moon and Mars exploration then there are going to be some big problems for the people who go there. To put badly written things like this online is deceptive, superficial, and not in the best interest of informing the public.

China to unveil younger team of astronauts for Shenzhou 13 space mission, South China Post

"The mission, which is planned to last for six months, will be piloted by Zhai Zhigang, 55, Wang Yaping, 41, and Ye Guangfu, 41, who were the backup crew of the recently completed Shenzhou 12 mission, said a source familiar with the mission plan. Wang will become China's first female astronaut to work in its new Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station."

Kamala Harris slammed for using child actors in bizarre space video, NY Post

"All five of them are actors," Carlo Bernardino, whose 13-year-old son Trevor was one of the youngsters taking part, told the Washington Examiner. "He's a child actor -- he's been trying to do this type of thing for a while. And so he has a manager and an agent in LA and they send him castings."

Children in Kamala Harris's NASA video were paid actors, Yahoo

"The Vice President's office did not select the kids who participated in the YouTube Originals special," a White House official told the Washington Examiner. A YouTube spokesperson told the Hill that "compensation was handled the same way as it is for all of our other YouTube Originals shows."

VP Harris Kicks Off World Space Week And NASA Ignores Her (Update), earlier post

Russia tells its space reporters to stop reporting on the space program, Ars Technica

"The country already prohibits reporting on space activities containing classified information, but a new law extends to coverage of a variety of other space news. Essentially, any person in Russia who now reports on anything that might be even tangentially related to Russia's military activities or space activities will be labeled as a foreign agent. News organizations and individuals will be required to put a disclaimer on every single article, social media post, or tweet, reading, "This Report (Material) has been created or distributed by Foreign Mass Media Channels executing the functions of a Foreign Agent, and/or a Russian legal entity executing the functions of a Foreign Agent."

Keith's note: Oh well, so much for encouraging foreign agent media coverage of new space moviefilm being photographed on orbital space station.

Keith's update: But wait - there's more. Perhaps Rogozin is instituting this media ban to thwart bad news from surfacing from within Roscosmos so as to anger Putin further. Yea this whole ban the media thing should work, Dmitry. Great idea!

Putin slashes Russia's space budget and says he expects better results, Ars Technica

"But what does seem clear is that the Russian space program's future is bleak. Whereas China is rising with a space station of its own and ambitious new exploration plans and the US space industry is flourishing amid a rise in commercial activity, Russia is seeking to maintain a status quo of space vehicles developed decades ago."

- Earlier Russia posts

Keith's 7 October update: It took TWO DAYS for NASA PAO and the NASA STEM Engagement Office to make mention of the event with VP Harris, one powered by global video giant YouTube. It is rather baffling that NASA would take so long to acknowledge an event which, in the end, turns a national spotlight on NASA and space exploration - during World Space Week (which is almost over now) If PAO AA Marc Etkind and STEM Office AA Mike Kincaid have a consistent policy for highlighting education and public outreach at NASA it is certainly not in evidence here. As for the White House liaison at NASA - no one seems to be listening to them. Just sayin'

Keith's 6 October update: A day later and there is still zero mention by NASA regarding this high profile space-related event with VP Harris. Supposedly there will be something online at NASA tomorrow - except nothing is mentioned by NASA. Oh yes, a NASA astronaut in space is involved. But why mention that. Meanwhile the national news media noticed - even if NASA is AWOL.

- Kamala Harris Will Host YouTube Special About Space Exploration: 'We're Going to Learn So Much', People
- 'Get Curious With Vice President Harris' Space-Themed Kids Special Set For Launch, Deadline/Yahoo
- YouTube announces new kids' special starring Harris, The Hill

Keith's 5 October note: This is clearly a space education effort - and it comes from the Vice President herself, you know, the person in the White House to whom the National Space Council and its Users Advisory Group answers. You'd think that the political appointees at NASA Headquarters on the 9th floor would be going out of their way to promote this. Guess again. There is no mention of this event at the NASA STEM Engagement Office website - or at NASA.gov. No press release or media advisory from NASA PAO either. No mention at @NASA or @NASASTEM. No mention at @VP or @WHOSTP either. This feature is supposed to launch "October 7 at 6am PT / 9am ET, on the NASA YouTube Channel" but there is no mention on the NASA TV schedule. Will it air on NASA TV or just on a website?

Vice President Kamala Harris Kicks Off World Space Week With New YouTube Original Special "Get Curious With Vice President Harris", YouTube

"Kicking off World Space Week, YouTube Originals today announced "Get Curious with Vice President Harris," a new special encouraging children to "get curious" about space. This once-in-a-lifetime event follows a group of lucky kids as they meet Vice President Kamala Harris, go on a scavenger hunt with clues delivered by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough from the International Space Station, and get unprecedented exclusive access to the United States Naval Observatory."

Keith's note: It is rather strange that the NASA History Office decided to remind people of these lavish National Space Council photo ops - events that often bordered on campaign rallies (like the one at KSC) - that NASA was forced to put on by the Trump Administration. Money to pay for these things was squeezed out of everyone's program pockets at NASA HQ and elsewhere. Let's hope that the Biden White House does not prompt their version of the National Space Council to go for optics instead of substance.

Space Billionaires On SNL



Monthly Archives

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2021 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2021 is the previous archive.

November 2021 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.