June 2022 Archives

Book Review: Escaping Gravity: "My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age" By Lori Garver

"Lori Garver has a new book out titled "Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age" which explains much of how space exploration and utilization is being done in the third decade of the 21st century. But how did we get here? She explains. She was there.

This past weekend commercial outfit SpaceX launched three successful Falcon 9 rockets in less than 36 hours. They all utilized previously used first stages that will be reused yet again. The two richest people on Earth are pouring billions of their own money into space companies while racing one another to various places across the solar system. Astronomers are now starting to complain that there will soon be so many satellites in the sky as to confuse people who look up to stargaze.

This did not just happen. It was not inevitable by any means. People had to put their jobs, reputations, fortunes, and family life on the line to help beat back the status quo inertia of government-only mindset. At the top of the list of those who pushed long and hard to reform the way NASA does things was Lori Garver.

The status quo that has held the true potential of space utilization back for decades is composed of Big Aerospace, companies entrenched self-interests in Congress, is tied to a series of constantly pivoting and disinterested White House teams - with an older male ruling class thwarting outsiders who try and change things. Did I miss anything?

One of the strange things Lori and other commercial space proponents had to navigate had to do with political re-polarization on the whole topic of space commerce. Whereas congressional Republicans had always held to their party's core notion of the private sector being the best way to do things and that Big Government was ill-equipped to do so - and the opposite notion traditionally held by Democrats, that whole symmetry was upset."

GAO Report - NASA Assessments of Major Projects, GAO

"Continuing a recent trend, NASA's portfolio of major projects experienced significant cost and schedule overruns and more projects were added (see figure). Of the 21 major projects in the development phase of NASA's acquisition process (which includes building and launching the system), 15 were responsible for cumulative cost overruns of about $12 billion and cumulative schedule delays of 28 years. But just three projects--the James Webb Space Telescope, Space Launch System, and Orion--are responsible for more than three-quarters of the cost growth and almost half of the delays.

In the past year, the majority of NASA's projects in development increased their cost estimates, schedule estimates, or both. Technical issues and new scope were the primary causes of overruns. However, COVID-19 exacerbated these challenges with government and contractor facility shutdowns and remote work.

Current overruns and the risk of future COVID-19 issues could have a cascading effect on NASA's ability to manage its portfolio. NASA designates cost reserves to help projects address risks. However, when projects exhaust these reserves and need additional funding, it can limit the agency's ability to fund existing missions or start new ones. For example, NASA officials said some new projects are preparing for later launch dates due in part to funding limitations caused by other projects' cost overruns. NASA is taking steps to improve its portfolio management, but it is too soon to determine the results of these efforts."

- NASA's Cost Estimating Process Is Flawed. Duh. Who Knew?, earlier post
- NASA Still Has No Idea What A SLS Launch Will Cost
- Yet Another GAO Report That NASA Will Automatically Ignore, earlier post
- GAO: Human Space Exploration: Persistent Delays and Cost Growth Reinforce Concerns over Management of Programs, earlier post
- GAO: NASA Assessments of Major Projects, earlier post
- GAO Releases Report Critical of NASA, Citing Financial Risks Involved With CEV Acquisition, earlier post
- GAO: NASA: Assessments of Major Projects, earlier post
- GAO Report: NASA - Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects, earlier post
- NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects, earlier post
- NASA: Lack of Disciplined Cost-Estimating Processes Hinders Effective Program Management , earlier post
NASA Needs Integrated Strategy to Control Mission Costs

And so on

NASA Administrator Announces Next NAC Meeting, New Members, NASA

"NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Wednesday the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) will convene its next meeting on August 9-10. Nelson also appointed new members to the NAC, who will provide leadership counsel and advice on agency programs and priorities."

Keith's note: Blah Blah Blah. One of the appointees is a former, elderly Senate sidekick of Nelson's. The others are certainly more than qualified - BUT - with all this incessant chatter from NASA about diversity and the Artemis Generation - why is it that these NASA advisory committees always end up with the usual suspects? Why are there no actual members of the Artemis Generation - or people who will be directly supervising the Artemis Generation - on these committees? Oh, and just wait until the moribund National Space Council Users Advisory Group (still in hibernation) eventually announces its new membership which will almost certainly be similarly inclined towards the same people talking to one another in the same old echo chamber.

Keith's note: With the exception of an unresolved Hydrogen leak NASA told computers to ignore, it seems that the countdown to T-29 sec otherwise went as planned. The original plan was to bring it down to T-9.3 sec but was halted when a flag was encountered - so the test was not 100% completed. But NASA will try and spin it as if it was.

Keith's 16 June update: NASA finally got around to mentioning this publicly. NASA's The Color of Space Documentary Celebrates Black Space Explorers

FAA Requires SpaceX to Take Over 75 Actions to Mitigate Environmental Impact of Planned Starship/Super Heavy Launches, FAA

"The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts from its proposed plan to launch the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle from Boca Chica, Texas. The actions are part of the agency's environmental review. The environmental review must be completed along with public safety, national security, and other analyses before a decision on whether to grant a launch license can be made. The license application is still pending."

Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (Final PEA) and Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision (Mitigated FONSI/ROD) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas, FAA

"Provisions contained in CEQ's NEPA‐implementing regulations and in FAA Order 1050.1F, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, require the preparation of a supplemental EA if the applicant makes substantial modifications in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns or there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns or bearing on the proposed action or its impacts (see, e.g., FAA Order 1050.1F, Paragraph 9‐3). After independently reviewing SpaceX's project modifications noted above, the FAA does not consider these modifications to be "substantial" in the context of presenting new or additional potential impacts beyond the scope already addressed in the draft PEA. Further, the removal of the proposed infrastructure reduces the Proposed Action's anticipated environmental consequences."

What are China's ambitions in space?, ABC Radio National

"Nearly 60 years ago the world was consumed by the space race. So, what does China's latest mission to their space station tell us about Beijing's intent to become an established power in space? Guests: Keith Cowing, ex-NASA employee and Editor, NASA Watch; Dr Malcolm Davis. Space policy expert at ASPI."

NASA OIG: NASA's Management Of The Mobile Launcher 2 Contract

"The ML-2's substantial cost increases and schedule delays can be attributed primarily to Bechtel's poor performance on the contract, with more than 70 percent ($421.1 million) of the contract's cost increases and over 1.5 years of delays related to its performance. For example, Bechtel underestimated the ML-2 project's scope and complexity, experienced ML-2 weight management challenges, and experienced staffing turnover and retention issues. Additionally, Bechtel's lack of a certified EVMS since inception of the ML-2 contract--a contractually required tool for measuring and assessing project performance--has limited NASA's insight into the project's cost and schedule issues.

Bechtel's performance notwithstanding, NASA's management practices contributed to the project's cost increases and schedule delays. NASA awarded the ML-2 contract while the Exploration Upper Stage--the primary reason NASA needed a second mobile launcher--lacked final requirements, impacting the ML-2 design. With respect to contract management, while NASA withheld award fees for a 6-month performance period in spring 2021 due to Bechtel's poor performance, the Agency did not continue this practice despite the contractor's continued poor performance in the subsequent award period. Therefore, we question nearly $3 million in award fees NASA awarded to Bechtel for this period."

Keith's note: So ... NASA awarded this contract, did not give Bechtel all the information it actually needed tp do the work, then let work proceed, dinged Bechtel on an award fee payment, but otherwise just let things go ahead without any attempt to halt work, re-bid, etc. NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana was Center Director at KSC from 2008 until 2021 throughout much of this contract. NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL Ret.) fought for this work at KSC while a U.S. Senator. Nelson brought Cabana up to DC where he oversaw much of the agency including work being done on Artemis. This contract was awarded in 2019 when Cabana was running KSC and Kathy Lueders was running HEOMD. While Bechtel is certainly to blame for much of this mess - so is NASA - and the mismanagement of this contract starts at the very top of the agency inside the glass doors on the 9th floor.

NASA to Discuss New Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Study Today, NASA

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT today - Thursday, June 9 - to discuss a new study team the agency is commissioning to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). The purpose of the study is to examine UAPs - observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena - from a scientific perspective."

NASA to Set Up Independent Study on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, NASA

"NASA is commissioning a study team to start early in the fall to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) - that is, observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena - from a scientific perspective. The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward."

Keith's note: Alas, NASA PAO only told hand-picked media about this NASA-CNES event - because that is how NASA rolls these days. Let's see if any video surfaces on NASA TV. And of course we know that NASA OIIR's website won't mention it since they just don't care.

Oh yes, look at the graphic used in this official NASA Tweet. Notice how they spell "New Zealand" ... Update: they deleted the tweet (after we took note) and figured out how to spell New Zealand. This is the earlier version of their graphic.

GAO: International Space Station: Opportunities Exist to Improve Communication with National Laboratory Users

"CASIS officials have not obtained input from the advisory committee on how to allocate laboratory resources, even though the committee is chartered to advise CASIS on resource utilization. CASIS officials stated they have not obtained this input for several reasons, including that the committee is unlikely to provide a consensus perspective. However, a lack of consensus does not preclude communication. Diverse input could enhance CASIS's understanding of risks and opportunities across the laboratory portfolio.

Additionally, CASIS has not routinely provided the advisory committee information about past and planned resource allocations, including visibility into the flight queue for projects waiting to travel to the International Space Station. The chairs of the advisory committee and its five subcommittees told GAO they could more effectively advise CASIS if they had more information about past resource allocations. These members also stated that greater transparency into planned allocations would be valuable for users conducting time-sensitive research--such as biological science research involving cell and tissue samples. CASIS officials said they have not routinely provided the committee this information because the resource allocation process is complex and fluid. However, NASA and CASIS officials acknowledged laboratory users would benefit from improved visibility into the resource allocation process."

Keith's note: I spent a lot of time looking into CASIS as you may recall. After more than a decade it is still broken. NASA never wanted it and only pays attention to CASIS when Congress or NASA HQ or GAO points out glaring issues. This time CASIS openly admits that it really does not care what its own advisory panel does. Then they all write a report, reshuffle management - and eject the good employees, and then this all disappears back into the NASA mis-managerial mist again. CASIS is located in Florida so NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL Ret.) is not going to be too tough on them. The $15 million CASIS gets from NASA every year is mandated by Congress - no matter how good or bad they do their job. That is unlikely to change any time soon. The space station could be so much more than it is - if NASA cared enough about it, that is.

New director of NASA's storied Jet Propulsion Lab takes on ballooning mission costs , Science

"Q: JPL has an incredible record of success in robotic missions. But you've had a lot of cost overruns with the Mars rovers, and we're seeing it again with Europa Clipper, which will now cost an estimated $5 billion. What steps can JPL and other centers take to stop getting surprised by cost increases?

A: You're raising an issue that is high on my agenda here. Technical performance at JPL--amazing. Cost and schedule performance, especially on cost, we have not done as well. What's behind that? Of course, the answer is, it's complicated. It can be hard to understand and write down early on all the requirements that drive cost. How do we get better at that and start to systematically look at where we are missing? I want people to know that I take it seriously, because we're spending American taxpayer dollars here. And also, there's a lot of good science to do and when missions don't meet their cost milestones, that means something else probably is getting delayed because as far as I know, there are not infinite resources."

Keith's note: Oddly this tweet - well intentioned as it was - from NASA Administrator Nelson about inclusion and diversity at NASA during Pride Month is limited in terms of who can reply. Note that is says: "Who can reply? People @SenBillNelson follows or mentioned can reply" Not the best way to be inclusive. Just sayin'.

NASA Partners with Industry for New Spacewalking, Moonwalking Services

"NASA has selected Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to advance spacewalking capabilities in low-Earth orbit and at the Moon, by buying services that provide astronauts with next generation spacesuit and spacewalk systems to work outside the International Space Station, explore the lunar surface on Artemis missions, and prepare for human missions to Mars."

Spacesuits aboard station declared a "no-go" pending analysis of recent helmet water leak, CBS

"The aging shuttle-era spacesuits aboard the International Space Station have been declared "no-go" for operational, normally planned spacewalks, pending analysis to determine what led to excess water getting into an astronaut's helmet during a March excursion, officials confirmed Tuesday."

Keith's note: The NASA press release says total contract value is $3.5B if all of the contract options are eventually exercised but there are no details on how NASA funding is accomplished or the value of these two individual contracts. Oh yes - there is no mention of how these suits will help NASA deal with current suit issues on ISS right now. The earliest that these suits might be tested is apparently in the 2025 timeframe according to Axiom and Collins - maybe. As to whether they will be ready for an actual lunar mission i.e. Artemis 3 - that's anyone's guess since no one knows exactly when that flight will happen.

NASA declined to answer the "when" question with regard to spacesuit testing. Both companies suggest the 2025 time frame but provided no other detail. NASA would only say "mid-2020s" for when these spacesuits will be in use. When asked about water in helmets of current ISS EVA suits the NASA rep only says that they are studying it.

When asked what the value of each contract the NASA person said that it is going to be published in the source selection documents in late June. So .. one has to assume that NASA still does not know - otherwise they'd tell us, right?

Spacesuit companies were asked how much they've invested already. Axiom Space would not answer other than to say that they spent what they spent and "you can go figure it out". The Collins Aerospace guy had no number to offer either. Again, so much for transparency in this government/industry partnership

Oh and despite NASA awarding contracts worth up to $3.5 billion for new spacesuits for the ISS and the Moon - no one actually has pictures to share of the spacesuits that $3.5 billion from NASA will buy.

One media question asked why NASA is going to spend more money on spacesuits than a Human Lander System since it would seem that a lander is more complicated than a spacesuit. Answer - a fast talking NASA guy: moon ships are moon ships and spacesuits are spacesuits.

Meanwhile no one at NASA has any idea when an actual Moon landing will happen.

Keith's note: It is June 2022. The last time the National Space Council poked its head out through the curtains was December 2021. Six months. Does anyone know what they are doing?

If you go to the official National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (NSpC UAG) page at NASA you are greeted with banner image of the Trump Administration's UAG. If you go to the membership roster page it lists the same Trump UAG membership and was last updated on 8 June 2020. NASA put a notice out to get new UAG members last year and then had to extend that since no one was repsonding. But 6 months later and we've heard absolutely nothing about the UAG membership, what the UAG will do, when it will meet etc. The last meeting was 30 July 2020.

And of course if you go to the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) who oversees all of those advisory committee things at NASA they make no mention of the National Space Council or the UAG - at all.

There is a National Space Council page at the White House with 3 paragraphs of generic text and a link to one document about a framework issued in December 2021 which is mostly buzz words and talking points - but little else. Chirag Parikh runs the National Space Council but there is no mention of him on the White House web page or how to contact him or his staff (he has staff right?). We only hear from him once every few months when he goes to some inside the beltway thing and gets quoted. But other than a few routine executive orders that any White House could have issued, there is no heart or soul residing within whatever it is that the White House wants to do in space.

Remember the early days of the Biden Administration when there was mention of the Moon once a week in a presidential speech and we all got jazzed about Moon rocks on a shelf in the Oval Office? Not any more. I would ask NASA PAO about this but they are among the most clueless when it comes to what is actually going on in terms of space policy.

It is June now. 6 months have passed since the Nationaal Space Council did one of the meeting things. The UAG is still in limbo. If anyone knows what is going on please feel free to post in the comments section or tweet a comment.

After 9 Months Biden's Space Policy Is Totally TBD, earlier post (3 Nov 2021)

"After the first deadline for the Space Council's Users Advisory Group (UAG) membership solicitation came and went (low response rate apparently) they extended it another month. The new date was 29 October so, given the glacial pace that space policy moves these days, it will be next year before we find out who is on the UAG. And of course we'll need to see when it meets and whether it will be yet another space policy Potemkin village with no real responsibilities. And when it comes to OSTP and NSC there's nothing but crickets there."

National Space Council Meeting Update, earlier post (1 Dec 2021)

"On Wednesday, December 1 at 1:30pm EST, Vice President Kamala Harris will convene the Biden-Harris Administration's inaugural National Space Council meeting at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. The Vice President, who chairs the National Space Council, will deliver remarks laying out the Administration's whole-of-government approach to ensuring that space activities create opportunities that benefit the American people and the world. ... In conjunction with the meeting, President Joe Biden will sign a new Executive Order on Wednesday, December 1 that addresses the membership, duties, and responsibilities of the Council."

Space Team Biden Needs To Get The Space Council Thing Right The Very First Time, earlier post (14 Nov 2021)

"If the value of space, as put forth by this Administration, is not instantly obvious - and pre-briefed to cynical media/stake holders in advance - then the whole NSpC effort - and the Biden/Harris Administration's chances of doing something valuable in space - will evaporate before they even start. There are really no second chances to get things right in DC any more."

United States Space Priorities Framework

"We are in a historic moment: space activities are rapidly accelerating, resulting in new opportunities in multiple sectors of society, as well as new challenges to U.S. space leadership, global space governance, the sustainability of the space environment, and safe and secure space operations. Burgeoning U.S. space activities are a source of American strength at home and abroad - from providing tangible economic and societal benefits to Americans to expanding our network of alliances and partnerships."

- National Space Council's Chirag Parikh Says The Right Things
- Actors Were Hired To Promote The Whole VP Space Thing
- The National Space Council Meeting That No One Is Talking About
- Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA


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