Recently in Commercialization Category

XCOR Co-Founders Establish New Company, Space News

"The three left XCOR to found a new company, Agile Aero. That company, which, like XCOR, is based in Midland, Texas, will be focused on addressing a problem Greason says has afflicted XCOR and other aerospace companies: the inability to rapidly develop and test vehicles, be they high-speed aircraft or launch vehicles. "We've seen so many companies run into the same obstacle," he said in an interview. "Once you get past cylindrical designs into vehicles that have lift in the atmosphere, the complexity gets to the point where the ability of people to try things rapidly, and succeed or fail fast, runs out of steam."

XCOR Aerospace co-founders launch new startup: Agile Aero for the next frontier, Geekwire

"Greason noted that the past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in the pace of development for small satellites and rocket engines, but that "nobody has had much luck with rapid-prototyping [advanced aerospace] vehicles, except for making missile shapes." "We don't know exactly how to do it yet, but we have a clear understanding of the challenge," he said."

XCOR Space Expeditions Announces New Ticket Price as Lynx Approaches Completion, XCOR

"XCOR Space Expeditions announced that it will raise the price of a flight aboard XCOR Lynx from $100,000 to $150,000 effective January 1st, 2016."

Keith's note: So ... the guys who founded and ran XCOR are leaving XCOR to start a new company that will solve the problems that they could not solve at XCOR. It does not seem like they have a good track record in that regard (both DeLong and Greason had prominent roles at Rotary Rocket). Just sayin'.

President Obama Signs Bill Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights into Law, Planetary Resources

"Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, applauds President Obama who signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law. This law recognizes the right of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain and encourages the commercial exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids."

U.S. space-mining law seen leading to possible treaty violations, CBC

"My view is that natural resources [in space] should not be allowed to be appropriated by anyone states, private companies, or international organizations," said Ram Jakhu, a professor at McGill University's institute of air and space law. He said the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed by the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, makes it clear that the surfaces and contents of asteroids and other celestial bodies are protected from commercial harvesting."

The commercial space race, Ottawa Citizen

"If asteroids cannot be appropriated by any state, they can also never be owned by a company, and that includes parts of an asteroid that might be extracted. Any notion of property law which would allow a person to possess, use or sell an object, depend upon the existence of a sovereign jurisdiction. The U.S. cannot give away what it does not own."

Obama boosts asteroid mining, signs law granting rights to own space riches,

"It remains unknown whether the unilateral move by the U.S. to claim space ownership is valid. According to the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the U.S., Russia, and a number of other countries, nations can't own territory in space. "Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States," the treaty says, adding that "outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." The new law, however, does include a very important clause, as it clarifies that it does not grant "sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body."

What Blue Origin Did

There's a major difference between SpaceX and Blue Origin that makes them incomparable, Business Insider

"We congratulate Blue Origin on the progress they're making with vertical take-off and landing of their booster." That said, it's important to know the difference between the two companies their goals, and, most of all, their reusable rocket technology."

It'd be way harder for Bezos' rocket to get into orbit than just space, Wired

"This feat raises some questions and some hackles, judging by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's response to Bezos' announcement on Twitter, defending his own company's strides toward reusable rockets. Let's take a look at a few of the issues."

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier', The Verge

"The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen, and it's not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you've put in for having done it first. So if you're going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, "Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars." They'll ask, "How much will it cost?" You say, "A lot." They'll ask, "Is it dangerous?" You'll say, "Yes, people will probably die." They'll ask, "What's the return on investment?" and you'll say "Probably nothing, initially." It's a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private."

Keith's note: Neil Tyson may be a smart astronomer type of guy but he doesn't understand business - certainly not the model that is working for Elon Musk rather nicely thus far in SpaceX and elsewhere. Nor does Tyson have the resources that Musk has or understand why successful entities like Google have invested. Rather, Tyson's tactic on human and commercial space flight thus far seems to be to whine and inject doubt whenever he can. And he is clearly unhappy and grumpy when people continue to succeed in commercial and/human spaceflight.

Blue Origin Makes Historic Rocket Landing [With Video]

"Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas."

"Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission--soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again."

Marc's note: Congratulations to the Blue Origin team. This is indeed an historic milestone in the history of flight. Now, how about providing some more details on the crew capsule and how it performed?

Blue Origin Flies and Lands New Shepard Suborbital Spacecraft, Space News

"The successful flight keeps Blue Origin on track to begin commercial flights of uncrewed research payloads by the middle of 2016, a goal recently stated by company officials. Bezos told reporters he hoped to to start flying people on New Shepard in a couple of years, depending on the progress made during test flights. "As much as I would like to put humans on that vehicle and fly it as soon as possible," he said, "the reality is that we'll enter commercial operations withat that vehicle when we're ready, and not before."

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

"NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil. This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May."

Letter from Rep. Sensenbrenner to NASA Administrator Bolden Regarding Acquisition Issues

"I am writing to request information about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) policy with respect to full and open competition in the acquisition process. NASA is in the midst of an up-to ten-year $1.3 billion dollar technology purchase known as the NASA Integrated Communications Service (NICS) contract. Such a large and important technology purchase should follow both the letter and spirit of full and open competition laws, regulations, and Office of Management and Budget guidelines to ensure that NASA, and the taxpayer, get the best value for their investment, as well as the best and most cost-effective solutions to meet mission requirements. ... It has come to my attention that, pursuant to NICS, there is an Approved Products List (APL) developed by the contractor. The APL governs which products can be purchased for NASA systems and networks, and likely will impact NASA acquisitions for years to come. Interestingly, every approved product listed on the NICS LAN wired and wireless network APL belongs to a single manufacturer. At the same time, alternate vendors that have supplied network equipment to NASA, and successfully met mission requirements, have not been evaluated for inclusion on the APL for current and future purchases, despite requesting an opportunity to be evaluated."

- Rep. Sensenbrenner Seeks Answers on NASA Contracting Practices
- Letter from Rep. Sensenbrenner to NASA IG Martin Regarding Acquisition Issues

United Launch Alliance Reveals Transformational CubeSat Launch Program

"ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch," said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. "There is a growing need for universities to have access and availability to launch their CubeSats and this program will transform the way these universities get to space by making space more affordable and accessible."

Another NewSpace Casualty?

Microsoft Co-Founder's Space Project Is in Limbo, Wall Street Journal

"The ambitious venture appears to be on hold, these officials said, because the Microsoft Corp. co-founder hasn't announced a replacement rocket supplier for the original contractor that dropped out months ago. At this point, project officials haven't provided even the broad outlines of technology that could be used in the future, a development timetable or how they plan to launch significantly larger numbers of smaller satellites than originally envisioned."

Golden Spike: Another Space Commerce Casualty? (Update), earlier post

"A month Two months later and the website still says "under construction".

Keith's note: CASIS is tasked to manage the portion of the International Space Station designated as the ISS National Laboratory. But other than NASA funding, CASIS has failed to attract any significant income other than that provided - by NASA. Yet they want you to think that people beating a path to their door with multi-million dollar "commitments" in hand. Exactly what are these CASIS "commitments"?

According to the CASIS Strategic Plan, page 11, CASIS says that it will "Develop a robust financial model to supplement government funding. CASIS funding from NASA is currently projected at $15M per year, to cover operating costs and to provide seed money for promising R&D. To meet the variety of demands on personnel, infrastructure, business processes and outreach that will grow over time, CASIS must develop additional resources in the form of partnerships and funding and create rigorous business and economic models in order to sustain these. Sources will include private financiers, corporate sponsorship, philanthropists and federal grants that may leverage cost sharing and equity investment in new ventures. Additionally, CASIS will practice management excellence in its operating models to ensure costs are minimized while ISS utilization is maximized effectively toward mission success."

In its April 2015 report "International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory" the GAO noted (page 7) "According to the cooperative agreement, CASIS will solicit non-NASA funding for research by targeting various sources such as government grants, foundation funding, charitable contributions, private equity, venture financing, and private investors and facilitate matching of projects that meet the research objectives with those qualified funding sources."

So it is quite clear that CASIS is supposed to be out beating the bushes looking for funding and contributions. So far their success is puzzling to say the least. On one hand they claim to be making all manner of agreements and relationships with the private sector but when it comes to documenting actual contributions, well. There really are none - at least not the kind that a non-profit organization usually documents i.e. cash or in-kind donations.

Keith's note: Many people are pleased that the SPACE Act made it through the House yesterday. This legislation does a lot to support NASA's plans for going to Mars as well as various commercial efforts and things such as mining asteroids. There is something good in it for just about every space advocate. While a lot of individuals and organizations were quick to express their approval, others have been curiously silent. No statement seems to be available from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration despite all of the things in it that directly support the organization's avowed interests in sending humans to Mars. Nothing from the Planetary Society either - yet their co-founder stated yesterday that "Humans will become a multi-planet species by making it to Mars, but no farther. That is, they will never travel beyond Mars." so ... maybe they are not as enthusiastic about this legislation. Curiously, the two Mars-oriented groups Mars Society and Explore Mars are silent too. Meanwhile on the Asteroid utilization front, the usually bubbly Space Frontier Foundation is silent as well. Why bother communicating to the public you purport to enlighten about space when important news like this happens, eh?

Space utilization and exploration happens in spite of space advocates - not because of them.

- Satellite Industry Association Applauds Congress for Passing Long-term Extension of Commercial Space Launch Indemnification
- National Space Society Urges Presidential Signing of the Final Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
- CSF Applauds House Passage of Visionary, Comprehensive, and Bipartisan Commercial Space Legislation

House Passes SPACE Act

House Sends Crucial Commercial Space Bill to President's Desk

"House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas) today praised passage of crucial legislation that provides guidance and certainty for American commercial space partners. The bicameral, bipartisan agreement on H.R. 2262, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, consolidates language from the House-passed SPACE Act with provisions from the Senate's commercial space legislation. It is now headed to the president's desk to be signed into law."

- Rep. McCarthy's Remarks for SPACE Act Debate (prepared)
- House Takes Up Commercial Space Legislation Today
- SPACE Act Action Expected Today
- Virgin Galactic Applauds the Passage of Legislation for Commercial Space Endeavours
- Moon Express Commends House for Historic Vote Supporting Private Sector Lunar Resource Exploration and Utilization
- Sen. Cruz: Congress Carries Reagan's Torch Forward with New U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

Lockheed-Boeing venture says will not bid for US GPS satellite launch, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Monday said it would not bid for the next U.S. Air Force global positioning system (GPS) satellite launch, effectively ceding the competition to privately held SpaceX. ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, said it was unable to submit a compliant bid because of the way the competition was structured, and because it lacked Russian-built RD-180 engines for its Atlas 5 rocket."

Genes in Space Competition Launches, New England Biolabs

"Genes in Space, a competition aimed at fostering creativity, collaboration and critical thinking among young innovators opened a call for entries today. The competition challenges U.S. based students in grades seven through 12 to design an experiment that can solve a space exploration problem through DNA analysis. The competition is sponsored by miniPCR, Math for America (MA), Boeing, The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and New England Biolabs, Inc. (NEB). The winning experiment will be flown to the International Space Station (ISS)."

Keith's note: If you go to the CASIS website there is no mention of this competition. There is no mention of this cool idea at the NASA ISS National Laboratory website. No mention on Twitter at @ISS_CASIS or @ISS_Research. When it says that CASIS has sponsored this activity does that mean that they wrote a check? $15,000,000 a year and CASIS can't even tell people what they are doing with all this money?

CASIS is going to be briefing Mike Suffredini's replacement Kirk Shireman. Maybe they can explain their chronic under-performance to Shireman on simple things such as this.

Keith's update: @ISS_CASIS tweeted something late in the day - still nothing on their website etc.

Keith's note: Let's look at the media reach CASIS claims to have achieved in FY 2014. Page 32 of their FY 2014 Annual Report gives a summary (Larger image). This report represents what CASIS was capable of doing after being in operation for more than 3 years - after having received more than $42 million from NASA. Prior to this CASIS did not include these metrics in their reports. So this is the only snapshot we have.

In this 2014 summary CASIS claims to have issued 30 news releases. That's one release issued a bit more often than once every 2 weeks. They also claim to have had 30 media events in FY 2014 but do not explain what constitutes an "event". This could be a telecon or a full blown press conference. Hard to tell. They also claim to have had 3,891 "news mentions - clips, blogs". If you go to this page and click on "Media Reach" you get a page that shows for 2015 CASIS has (first 3 quarters) had 18 press releases, 19 media events, 3,065 news mentions, and 2,711 Twitter mentions. Not much has changed.

This is not very revealing. There are lots of news services that have automated systems that grab and repost press releases without any thought given to what the releases say. But the word "CASIS" gets counted none the less. 30 press releases automatically (and mindlessly) posted by several dozen of these automated systems each time one of these releases is issued could easily explain a large portion of these "news mentions".

Joint Commerce Committee Statement on Senate Passage of Bill to Boost Competitiveness of U.S. Space Industry

"U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) issued the following statements on the passage of H.R. 2262, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a bicameral, bipartisan bill that encourages competitiveness, reflects the needs of a modern-day U.S. commercial space industry, and guarantees operation of the International Space Station until at least 2024. The bill builds on key elements in S. 1297 that the Commerce Committee approved earlier this year and passed the Senate on August 4, 2015."

- Planetary Resources Applauds U.S. Congress in Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights, Planetary Resources
- McCarthy, Smith Praise Passage of Commercial Space Legislation
- CSF Applauds Senate Passage of Bipartisan Commercial Space Legislation, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
- New Law Enables Commercial Exploration and Use of Space Resources, Deep Space Industries

Musk's SpaceX Faces Competition for $3.5 Billion NASA Cargo Flights, Bloomberg

"Increased political scrutiny may provide an incentive to NASA to add more contractors to provide "back-up options" and avoid protests by losing bidders, said Nick Taborek, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. NASA isn't expected to gain additional funding from Congress, however, so adding new participants would probably mean less money for the current cargo haulers."

Keith's note: Despite articles like this and others, I detect no indication that a CRS-2 announcement is imminent i.e. today. PAO usually waits until the last minute but they do give media a heads up.

SLS/Orion Gets a Lobbying Organization in Washington (Update), earlier post

Keith's 3 Nov 12:19 am note: Have a look at Mary Lynne Dittmar's LinkedIn page (screengrab). It clearly says that she is a CASIS consultant "January 2015 - Present". She openly advertises this LinkedIn link on her Twitter profile (screengrab). Apparently the information on her LinkedIn page is inaccurate. Was she an "employee" of CASIS? No, she was a "consultant" - my error - and I am sorry for that mistake. But she was (and based on her email below, still is) paid by CASIS to perform work. That's the point. She clearly updated her LinkedIn page to include her new job - but left the CASIS consulting description as it was i.e. ongoing. I am not sure why I should apologize for assuming that this information was anything other than accurate. She sent this email (below) which I am posting in its entirety. I asked her via Twitter how she could do all these things and she has responded.

Keith's 3 Nov 8:20 am 3:30 11:30 pm update: Dittmar's LinkedIn page still says that she is currently a CASIS consultant.

Keith's 4 Nov 7:30 pm update:: It s still there.

As for the CASIS "contractor"issue, CASIS gets 99.96% of their funding from NASA and there is a contract in place whereby those funds are provided. As for the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and lobbying the press release announcing its creation overtly stated that it intends to pursue 501(c)(6) status from the IRS. 501(c)(6) organizations are permitted to do unlimited lobbying - so long as that is not the primary purpose of the organization. Otherwise, you'd expect it to seek 501(c)(3) status. As for "internal documentation" it is "internal" - so how does someone on the outside know what it says?

Dittmar's email (below):

Keith's note: CASIS (The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization chosen by NASA in 2011 to manage the portion of the International Space Station that has been designated as a U.S. National Laboratory. Non-profit organizations are established to do things in the public interest and not to generate a profit - or enrich their employees or advisors. Recently the IRS has started to look more deeply into compensation of non-profit executives and staff. CASIS likes to pay a lot of its employees hefty salaries - the top ten employees make much more than virtually everyone at NASA - including the NASA Administrator.

According to the Foundation Group: "There are legitimate, charitable organizations whose executives make up to, and sometimes more than, $250,000. For a very select few, a lot more. But let me put it like this if you have an employee whose compensation package exceeds $100,000, you better be prepared to defend it. Needless to say, Wall Street-style perks and bonuses are out of the question. And, depending on your organization's budget, a $10,000 salary package could be considered unreasonable."

According to a report "Nonprofit Organizations Salary and Benefits Report", published in 2014 by the NonProfit Times "The average salary for a nonprofit chief executive officer/president last year was $118,678. The median salary was $100,000 while the maximum found was $666,266. The average tenure for a nonprofit CEO was almost 12 years and almost 40 percent of participating organizations paid their CEO some type of bonus."

Let's look at the reportable compensation and nontaxable benefits for the top employees at CASIS as listed on their 2013 Form 990, Part VII: Gregory Johnson, President and Executive Director: $148,333 + $5,375; Duane Ratliff, Chief Operating Officer: $225,000 + $31,689; Jorge Fernandez, Chief Financial Officer: $200,000 + $18,689; Charles Resnick, Chief Economist: $220,000 + $30,701; Warren Bates, Director of Portfolio Management: $200,008 + $19,370; James Royston, Interim Executive Director (Until 9-9-14): $228,012 + $11,312, Eddie Harris, Director of Development: $197,000 + $29,986; Melody Kuehner, Director of Human Resources, $160,000 + $27,277; Brian Harris, Director of Business Development, $153,000 + $26,756, and Kenneth Shields, Director of Operations and Education: $131,220 + $32,117. That's 6 employees making over $200,000 a year and 4 others making over $170,000 a year. By comparison the NASA Administrator made $179,700 in 2014. 99.96% of CASIS funds come from NASA. Note: The fiscal year for CASIS ends on 30 September - so they have a while to file their next return with the IRS. Sources report that the 2014 Form 990 for CASIS will show a salary for Greg Johnson in the $300,000 range.

NASA Review of Orbital ATK Accident Released, NASA

"The team determined the proximate cause of the Antares launch vehicle failure was an explosion within the AJ-26 rocket engine and identified three credible technical root causes, any one or combination of which could have resulted in the engine failure. The team outlined six technical findings and made seven recommendations to address those technical findings. In addition, since Orbital ATK was in the process of procuring and testing new engines to replace the AJ-26 for future Antares flights while the investigation was ongoing, the team provided several recommendations for Orbital ATK and the ISS Program that were used to support those testing activities and to reduce overall risk for Antares return-to-flight and follow-on mission efforts. The NASA team's findings are consistent with the AIB's findings."

House and Senate Reach Agreement on Commercial Space Legislation, SpacePolicyOnline

"House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a compromise version of commercial space legislation that passed the House and Senate earlier this year. Details of the compromise have not been made public, but the revised bill could be voted on soon. The Senate bill, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (S. 1297) passed in August. The House bill, Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act (H.R. 2262), passed in May. The House and Senate versions have many differences, but Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), the new chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, recently characterized them as minor during an appearance before the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).."

Coalition for Space Exploration takes steps to ensure broad support for deep-space exploration

"The Coalition for Space Exploration, an ad-hoc organization of space industry businesses and advocacy groups, today announced it is taking formal steps to provide a single, unified voice for the deep-space exploration industry. The organization is seeking 501 (c) 6 status, appointing an executive director and changing the name of the organization to the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration."

Keith's note: The Coalition for Space Exploration was originally created by many aerospace companies to promote all aspects of space exploration and they managed to do a good job at being balanced and enthusiastic. That effort has now been taken over by the so-called "Four Amigos": Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aerojet, and Orbital ATK and will now be a de facto lobbying effort in Washington DC for SLS and Orion. It will be interesting to see how its new executive director Mary Lynne Dittmar deals with conflict of interest issues given that she also works for CASIS (which gets 99.9% of its funding from NASA) and is a member of the National Academies of Sciences Space Studies Board Executive Committee. Given the broad and overlapping aspects of all these jobs/positions, it is a little hard to see where government, private sector, and advisory aspects of her employment would not overlap at least once a day.

The Four Amigos and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post

Keith's update: Congress has been moving ahead with a budget today. Does this new organization speak out against the cuts to NASA commercial crew (which affects the 4 Amigos) or stay silent and only praise funding for SLS/Orion (which benefits the 4 Amigos)? Stay tuned.

Keith's 27 Sep note: Golden Spike Company ( was going to do all sorts of commercial stuff on the Moon with lots of illustrious names attached. Their website went dark a week and a half ago and no one seems to have noticed. Not a good way to maintain a business presence. Oh well.

Larger image

Keith's 29 Sep update: After being offline for several weeks someone at Golden Spike finally noticed that their website was down an hour or so ago. It now says "under construction". Either no one at the company pays much attention to their website - or no one outside of the company visits the site often enough for its absence to be noted. Take your pick, I guess.

Keith's 27 Oct update: A month later and the website still says "under construction". This is what it looked like in August 2015 when they were asking for non-tax deductible donations. Business must be a little slow if a functional website is such a low priority. Just sayin'.

Keith's note: The organization chosen by NASA to promote the scientific utilization of the International Space Station has been unable to raise funds it planned to raise. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) chosen by NASA in 2011 to manage the portion of the International Space Station that has been designated as a U.S. National Laboratory. Developed at the direction of Congress, CASIS was to be given NASA funds to promote research on the ISS while seeking to generate additional funds from the private sector to augment this research. The maximum annual value of this arrangement with NASA is $15 million per year.

According to the CASIS Strategic Plan, one of their operational strategies is to: "Develop a robust financial model to supplement government funding. CASIS funding from NASA is currently projected at $15M per year, to cover operating costs and to provide seed money for promising R&D. To meet the variety of demands on personnel, infrastructure, business processes and outreach that will grow over time, CASIS must develop additional resources in the form of partnerships and funding and create rigorous business and economic models in order to sustain these. Sources will include private financiers, corporate sponsorship, philanthropists and federal grants that may leverage cost sharing and equity investment in new ventures. Additionally, CASIS will practice management excellence in its operating models to ensure costs are minimized while ISS utilization is maximized effectively toward mission success."

Well CASIS has failed miserably in this regard. If you look at their IRS 990 forms from 2011, 2012, and 2013 (the only returns available) you will see that for at least the past 3 years 99.9% of CASIS' income was from NASA.

NASA Awards Venture Class Launch Services Contracts for CubeSat Satellites

"The three companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:
- Firefly Space Systems Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million
- Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Los Angeles, $6.9 million
- Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California, $4.7 million"

Keith's note: This is really strange. NASA KSC PAO is having a press event today - one they announced last week - to announce the selection of these three companies when in fact, as noted on NASAWatch on 7 October these awards were already announced and posted on NASA's procurement website on 1 October. So why wait 2 weeks to announce something that has already been announced?

What Is NASA's Venture Class Launch Service Announcement?, earlier post (with links to NASA contract awards)

Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Announces Appointment of Michael Suffredini as President, Commercial Space Division

"Michael T. Suffredini will lead the Commercial Space Division, a new enterprise for SGT. The Commercial Space Division will focus SGT's and its affiliated companies', spaceflight engineering, operations and hardware development capabilities on space related commercial opportunities. Through private and public/private partnerships the division expects to play a significant role in the development of low Earth orbit capabilities to support and foster the growing economy and commercialization of space. Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, the CEO and President of SGT stated "Mike's experience and accomplishments are the perfect match for our Commercial Space Division and he will build a new future for SGT as we embark on the commercialization of space."

About Those SpaceX Rumors

Pentagon denies ULA waiver on Russian engines, Washington Post

"The Pentagon announced Friday that it would not grant the United Launch Alliance a waiver allowing it to bypass a congressional ban on Russian-made engines that the company has said it desperately needs to compete in the multibillion-dollar national security launch market. ULA, the joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that had a monopoly on national security satellite launches for a decade, had pleaded with the Pentagon for a waiver that would allow it to use more RD-180 engines to power its Atlas V rocket. The company has four of the engines in its inventory that it could use for national security launches, ULA chief executive Tory Bruno recently told reporters. But he said ULA needs at least 14 to compete to launch national security payloads, such as spy and communications satellites, before it is able to use a new, American-made engine it is developing with Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)"

SpaceX raps ULA bid to get U.S. waiver for Russian engines, Reuters

"Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has slammed a bid by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, to get a waiver from a U.S. ban on Russian rocket engines for military use. Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors and chief executive of SpaceX, told Defense Secretary Ash Carter that federal law already allowed ULA to use "a substantial number" of engines. ULA's threat to skip an upcoming Air Force competition to launch a GSP satellite unless it got a waiver was "nothing less than deceptive brinkmanship for the sole purpose of thwarting the will of Congress," he wrote in a letter dated Oct. 5. A copy was obtained by Reuters on Thursday."

Previous RD-180 posts

NASA to Announce Selections for Small Satellite Launch Contract

"NASA will host a news conference at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to announce the outcome of the Venture Class Launch Service (VCLS) competition. The news conference will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Keith's note: NASA issued these Venture Class Launch Service contract awards last week. Rocket Lab got $6,950,000, Firefly got $5,500,000, and Virgin Galactic got $4,700,000 (or is there a missing decimal point?). What else is NASA going to announce?

- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Rocket Lab USA
- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Firefly Space Systems
- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Virgin Galactic

"VCLS is a Firm-Fixed Price contract for a dedicated launch service for U-Class satellites with NASA having sole responsibility for the payload on the launch vehicle. NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) supports the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities for CubeSats that are currently on the manifest back log."

As an Emerging Space Nation Israel Makes a Statement in Hosting the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceRef

"Israel's space program was born out of military need, but in recent years the civil space program has received an infusion of funding and next week it will host the annual International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem."

Marc's note: Charlie Bolden will take part in the annual Heads of Agencies plenary next Monday.

I will be at Congress covering it with stories to be posted here.

Related: Q&A with Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, SpaceNews

Israeli Google Lunar XPrize Team is First to Sign Launch Agreement for Private Mission to the Moon on SpaceX Falcon 9

"At a press conference held in Jerusalem today, alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, SpaceIL announced a significant milestone in its race to the moon: securing a "ticket to the moon" on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, with a mission scheduled for the second half of 2017. With this, SpaceIL becomes the first team to produce a verified launch contract in the US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and aims to accomplish not only the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world's first private lunar mission."

Marc's note: With this contract SpaceIL now has until December 31, 2017 to win the competition. It is also good news for the remaining teams in the competition. The deadline for teams without a contract is now extended to December 31, 2016. They have to show a verified contract by that date to stay in the competition.

This news comes just over a week after Moon Express announced it had a launch contract. However, unlike SpaceIL, their contract has yet to be verified by the Google Lunar X Prize.


Google Lunar X Prize to Verify Moon Express Launch Contract, SpaceRef Business

Chanda Gonzales, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPRIZE said on the contract issue "Our decision is based on a holistic assessment of whether the launch contract is genuine, whether there are any legal issues that might pop up, whether there are any obvious non-compliances with the rules, and whether a substantial commitment was made by both the team and the launch provider (e.g. non-refundable deposit of some certain minimum value)."

Russia's New Rocket Won't Fit in Its New Cosmodrome, Moscow Times

"Work at Russia's new $ 3 billion spaceport in the Far East has ground to a halt after a critical piece of infrastructure was discovered to have been built to the wrong dimensions, and would not fit the latest version of the country's Soyuz rocket, a news report said."

- Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome Has Big Problems, earlier post
- More Negative Progress at Vostochny Cosmodrome, earlier post
- Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch Slips 3 Years, earlier post
- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

ULA needs relief on Russian engines before GPS launch bid -CEO, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, on Friday said it cannot bid in a U.S. Air Force competition to launch a GPS satellite unless it gets some relief from a ban on use of Russian rocket engines. ULA Chief Executive Officer Tory Bruno told reporters in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that the company was seeking a partial waiver on trade sanctions enacted last year that ban U.S. military use of the Russian RD-180 engine that powers ULA's primary workhorse Atlas 5 rocket. The issue is now in the hands of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Bruno said. Without the waiver, he said, ULA could not compete for that launch or any other new national security launches until a new American-built engine is ready in 2019."That's not a viable business model," he told reporters."

United Launch Alliance under pressure from Elon Musk's SpaceX upstart and Congress, Washington Post

"ULA is facing a challenge from SpaceX, the hard-charging upstart founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, which just won certification by the Air Force that would allow it to compete against ULA for the next Pentagon launch contract. And ULA faces an even bigger problem: the Russian-made rocket engine it relies on has been entangled in a messy political fight that could threaten its ability to compete at all."

Moon Express Launch Contract to be Verified by Google Lunar XPRIZE, SpaceRef Business

"Yesterday Moon Express became the first Google Lunar X PRIZE participant to sign a launch contract with a launch service provider, albeit one who has yet to launch a rocket."

"The contract with Rocket Lab, a New Zealand startup based in Los Angeles but with a launch site in New Zealand, still needs to be verified by the Google Lunar X PRIZE authorities."

Marc's note: For the competition to be extended beyond this year the Google Lunar X PRIZE needs to verify the launch contract signed between Moon Express and Rocket Lab. If Moon Express had signed a contract with SpaceX, I think this would be a formality. However Rocket Lab has yet to launch their Electron rocket. Does that play into the decision process? Or is it just a matter of verifying the legality of the contract? I'm waiting for a response from the Google Lunar X Prize on this question.

Marc's update: Here's what Chanda Gonzales, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPRIZE said on the contract issue "Our decision is based on a holistic assessment of whether the launch contract is genuine, whether there are any legal issues that might pop up, whether there are any obvious non-compliances with the rules, and whether a substantial commitment was made by both the team and the launch provider (e.g. non-refundable deposit of some certain minimum value)."

Lockheed Martin Eliminated From NASA's Cargo Competition, Wall Street Journal

"NASA has quietly eliminated Lockheed Martin Corp. from a pending multibillion-dollar competition to ship cargo to the international space station starting in roughly three years, according to people familiar with the details."

Lockheed Martin Solution For NASA's Commercial Resupply Services Designed For Reliable Space Cargo Delivery, Lockheed Martin

"The Lockheed Martin CRS-2 solution brings many affordability benefits with it. Not only does it employ a reusable spacecraft and create the option to host commercial payloads, it's also designed to support future exploration missions in deep space."

Keith's note: This certainly has to factor into Lockheed Martin's thoughts about whether they want to try and sell their interest in ULA.

NASA Terminates Space Act Agreement with B612 Foundation for Sentinel Spacecraft

"NASA spokesmen Dwayne Brown and Dave Steitz confirmed via email that NASA terminated the agreement with B612. Steitz explained that B612 had not met an important milestone in the SAA -- starting Sentinel's development -- and NASA therefore terminated the agreement because "due to limited resources, NASA can no longer afford to reserve funds" to support the project. "NASA believes it is in the best interest of both parties to terminate this agreement but remains open to future opportunities to collaborate with the B612 Foundation," he added."

Keith's note: This certainly sucks. Odd that NASA gave up this easily. Curiously NASA is promoting a #JourneyToMars program with a fantasy budget and rockets whose launch dates slip year after year. But wait: B612 was going to pay for the spacecraft. NASA only had to use it.

If you read the actual Space Act Agreement between NASA and B612 these two articles pretty much rive everything else:

"ARTICLE 3. GATES Four Gates are identified that constitute milestones in the determination of the benefit to NASA from the Sentinel Mission. In the event that the Sentinel Mission does not fulfill a Gate, NASA will assess the impact thereof to the NASA benefit from the Sentinel Mission to determine whether or not to proceed with this Agreement. Any follow-on agreements or modifications agreed to by the Parties in the course of implementing the Sentinel Mission as described herein shall be fully incorporated in this Agreement and shall constitute a modification of this Agreement in Accordance with ARTICLE 24 Modifications.

ARTICLE 6. FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS There will be no transfer of funds between the Parties under this Agreement and each Party will fund its own participation. All activities under or pursuant to this Agreement are subject to the availability of funds, and no provision of this Agreement shall be interpreted to require obligation or payment of funds in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,(31 U.S.C. ยง 1341)."

So B612 pays for, builds, launches, and operates Sentinel - and all NASA needs to do is provides the things needed to use it, collect data etc. NASA can walk away from this agreement at any time and B612 does not get a penny from NASA. I can tell you that there are others (i.e. traditional space mission vendors like APL, JPL, etc.) who tell people that they'd be building a spacecraft like Sentinel (but paid for by NASA) if it were not for the fact that NASA keeps saying "No, no we'll just use Sentinel".

The coming train wreck for Commercial Human Spaceflight

"NASA at its highest leadership level has committed to try to allow commercial space flight providers a great deal of flexibility and cost control. There are ways to do this which will not compromise safety in design or operation. But having NASA civil servants as the arbiters of whether or not thousands of requirements have been satisfied is not the way to accomplish neither safety nor cost efficiency. So whether Commercial Space Flight gets $6 billion or $3 billion or $50 million, the entire effort is on the way to a train wreck."

Keith's note: 5 Years Later and this is still a concern.

Aerojet weighs higher offer for Lockheed-Boeing venture - sources, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc is considering raising its $2 billion offer for United Launch Alliance, a rocket launch venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, but faces big hurdles after a public rejection of the bid last week, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. ... The sources said Aerojet faces an uphill climb given growing tensions between the two companies over the past few years. This week ULA dumped Aerojet as its solid rocket motor supplier and signed a long-term deal with its rival Orbital, which is not currently in that business."

Aerojet to pay Orbital $50 million over Antares rocket accident, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc will pay Orbital $50 million to settle a dispute stemming from an Antares rocket launch accident last year that destroyed a load of cargo bound for the International Space Station, Aerojet said on Thursday."

United Launch Alliance Selects Orbital ATK to Provide Solid Boosters for Atlas V and Vulcan

"Today United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK, Inc. announced a long-term strategic partnership in which Orbital ATK will become the sole provider of solid rocket boosters for ULA's Atlas V and Vulcan launch vehicles, effective in 2019 when the new motors are ready for launch."

ULA, The Four Amigos, and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post

"But wait: the same Aerojet Rocketdyne/Boeing/Lockheed Martin/Orbital ATK crowd (aka "The Four Amigos" in industry circles) is also building SLS - and ULA was always a sanctioned monopoly (until SpaceX showed up and spoiled that party). Everyone seems to be hedging their bets these days via acquisitions and consolidations - instead of trying to build newer and better rockets that actually do things more cheaply/efficiently - except SpaceX, I guess."

SpaceX Upgraded Falcon 9 First-Stage Static Fire, SpaceRef Business

"SpaceX has released the following video of the first static fire test of the upgraded Falcon 9's first stage with densified propellant which occurred on September 21."

Is Space Mining Legal?, Popular Science

"In May, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give asteroid mining companies property rights to the minerals they extract from space. Called the Space Act of 2015, the bill now awaits the Senate's decision. ... In an article in the journal Space Policy, Fabio Tronchetti, a lawyer at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, argues that the Space Act of 2015 would violate the Outer Space Treaty. He writes: States are forbidden from extending their territorial sovereignty over outer space or any parts of it. Despite arguments claiming otherwise this prohibition also extends to private entities. In essence, Tronchetti argues that if the U.S. passes this bill, it will confer rights to space companies that the U.S. doesn't have the power to give."

Keith's note: This is like the legislation declaring the Apollo landing sites and their artifacts as a "National Historic Park". How can the U.S. Congress make laws, impose regulations, and confer rights regarding activities - by anyone - on bodies in the solar system over which it has no jurisdiction?

Why would any company pour billions into a mining project if they cannot own anything that they dig up? A mining site is composed of stuff that a miner wants to take and eventually sell to someone else. You can't sell something that you do not own. And if no nation can claim territory in space (where those mining sites would be located) then how can any nation make laws that give someone the right to mine these places?

- H.R.2262 - SPACE Act of 2015

"Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained them, which shall be entitled to all property rights to them, consistent with applicable federal law and existing international obligations."

- Outer Space Treaty

"Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

- Protecting the Apollo Sites, earlier post

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Welcomes New Members and Leadership

"The Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomed several new member companies at its Executive Board meeting this week, expanding its membership to more than 60 companies. ... Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida, was reelected as the CSF chairman."

Keith's note: This seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest to me. I would think that you'd want someone in a leadership role in an organization such as this who was interested in equally spurring space commerce in all 50 states without deference to any particular state - especially when government-led programs have been focused in just a few states - such as Florida. Indeed if DiBello pushes to get things going in other states (e.g. new spaceports) he's not doing his job in the best interest of Florida. But what do I know.

NASA Space Technology Research - Development - Demonstration and Infusion 2016

Keith's note: Yet another NASA civil servant who wants to limit taxpayer interaction with regard to NASA solicitations with an education/technology exchange subject matter. Last week it was someone at NASA HQ who did not want any faxes (while NASA field centers always list them) - but preferred email or phone calls. Their solution was to put 000-000-0000 for their fax number. This week we see that Bonnie James doesn't even want to talk to you. Just email. FWIW according to her phone number is not 000-000-0000 - it is 256-544-6985 and her real email is

"Point of Contact
Name: Bonnie F. James
Title: STMD Senior Investment Strategist
Phone: 000-000-0000
Fax: 000-000-0000

GAO: FAA Commercial Space Launch Industry Developments Present Multiple Challenges

"For fiscal year 2016, FAA requested a 16 percent increase in staff for its commercial space launch activities to keep pace with industry growth. Office of Management and Budget guidance indicates that if an agency is requesting significant changes in full-time positions, it should provide a detailed justification of the changes and discuss alternative implementation strategies. However, FAA's fiscal year 2016 budget submission does not provide a detailed justification of the staffing changes and does not consider alternatives to hiring additional staff. Because FAA has not done this, Congress lacks information that would be helpful in making decisions about the resources needed for the agency's commercial space launch activities. FAA officials said that the agency lacked additional workload metrics, which officials are now developing to include in future budget submissions for its commercial space launch oversight activities."

Boeing Defense Head: ULA Not Being Sold, Defense News

"Boeing's top defense official said the company has no interest in selling off the United Launch Alliance (ULA), despite a bid by Aerojet Rocketdyne to buy the company. Chris Chadwick, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said ULA will be "a huge part of our portfolio going forward" and that there was "no serious consideration" given to the bid offer, reportedly for $2 billion. "This bid, we've really not spent much time on it at all, because we're focusing in a totally different direction," he said. A Lockheed spokesman declined to respond to Chadwick's comments, and an Aerojet representative did not respond by deadline."

- Has SpaceX Shocked The Launch Industry To Transform?, Earlier post
- ULA, The Four Amigos, and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, Earlier post

Blue Origin Selects Florida's Space Coast for Production and Launch Site, SpaceRef Business

"Blue Origin has selected the Florida Space Coast to locate a new manufacturing facility and signed an agreement to use Launch Complex 36 (Pad B) to launch their new reusable rocket which they expect to fly from the Cape by 2020."

Marc's note: Launch Complex 36, Pad A, is being used by Moon Express.

Blue Origin: Coming to the Space Coast

"One of the unique things about our Florida operations is that we aren't just launching here, we're building here. At Exploration Park, we'll have a 21st century production facility where we'll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again. Locating vehicle assembly near our launch site eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets."

Rubio Welcomes Blue Origin To Florida's Space Coast

The revolution will not be crystallized: a new method sweeps through structural biology, Nature

"In labs around the world, cryo-electron microscopes such as this one are sending tremors through the field of structural biology. In the past three years, they have revealed exquisite details of protein-making ribosomes, quivering membrane proteins and other key cell molecules, discoveries that leading journals are publishing at a rapid clip. Structural biologists say - without hyperbole - that their field is in the midst of a revolution: cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) can quickly create high-resolution models of molecules that have resisted X-ray crystallography and other approaches, and labs that won Nobel prizes on the back of earlier techniques are racing to learn this upstart method. The new models reveal precisely how the essential machinery of the cell operates and how molecules involved in disease might be targeted with drugs."

Keith's note: NASA has been thumping on the value of using the microgravity environment afforded by spaceflight as a way to create large, ultra-pure protein crystals - the kind you need to get the best structural measurements using x-ray crystallography. It was a cool idea with considerable merit. Full disclosure: part of my job at NASA back in the 90s was to promote this type of research and I did so enthusiastically. But it took NASA a long time to actually try this in space while the real world back on Earth pushed ahead.

Now, the ability to use exceptionally small amounts of material on Earth using high-precision, ultra-powerful x-ray sources has allowed materials developed for ground-based crystallography that exceed what is obtained from research using space-based materials. Recently crystallography itself, in its traditional form, is now being eclipsed by new methods that offer even more precise structural information - with no apparent need for the trip to and from space.

So where is NASA in this story?

SpaceX Rival ULA May Get Boost In New Space Race,

"Aerojet Rocketdyne made the offer, and negotiations are in advanced stages, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. Those sources also said a buyout could enhance ULA leadership and improve funding for its development of U.S.-made rockets. The offer comes as United Launch Alliance is seeking to keep its position as the Pentagon's top rocket supplier while also grappling with economic sanctions on Russia that threaten ULA's supply of Russian-made RD-180 engines needed to power its Atlas 5 rocket."

Jeff Bezos' rocket engine plans could be snuffed out if this $2B deal goes through

"The problem for Bezos' Blue Origin is that the Kent-based space company is currently the leading contender to build a new rocket engine, the BE-4, to replace Russian rocket engines that now power the ULA's Atlas 5 rockets. But California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, long the nation's largest builder of rocket engines, badly wanted that contract, and has been fighting to beat out Blue Origin for the deal. So if Aeroject Rocketdyne buys ULA, the company will likely use its own engines on the Atlas 5, and not Blue Origin's engines."

Bid for ULA would cap a tumultous 18 months, and shake up the rocket industry, Washington Post

"Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in May. All of which may make ULA's board eager to sellfor the right price."

Aerojet makes $2 billion offer for Lockheed-Boeing joint venture: sources, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc has submitted a $2 billion offer to buy United Launch Alliance (ULA), a spacecraft launch services provider that is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, according to sources familiar with the matter. Aerojet Rocketdyne board member Warren Lichtenstein, the chairman and chief executive of Steel Partners LLC, approached ULA President Tory Bruno and senior Lockheed and Boeing executives about the bid in early August, the sources said. Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesman Glenn Mahone said the company would not comment on any negotiations that it was involved in with any company. Lockheed declined comment. No immediate comment was available from Boeing."

Keith's note: But Aerojet Rocketdyne will not own Boeing's or Lockheed Martin's rockets, will they? This is like buying a travel booking agency - not an airline - or a manufacturer. Can Aerojet Rocketdyne really expect to turn a multi-billion dollar profit selling someone else's rockets? And if they are getting Boeing and Lockheed Martin's rocket factories as part of the offer - is $2 billion even a real number? There seems to be a zero missing. Or are these companies really that uncertain of making a profit from commercial launch vehicles that they want to walk away from a half century of launching rockets for pennies on the dollar?

But wait: the same Aerojet Rocketdyne/Boeing/Lockheed Martin/Orbital ATK crowd (aka "The Four Amigos" in industry circles) is also building SLS - and ULA was always a sanctioned monopoly (until SpaceX showed up and spoiled that party). Everyone seems to be hedging their bets these days via acquisitions and consolidations - instead of trying to build newer and better rockets that actually do things more cheaply/efficiently - except SpaceX, I guess. Wait ... there's more: Blue Origin has an engine agreement deal with ULA. Jeff Bezos likes to buy things.

I smell an anti-trust lawsuit in the distance and/or a tech giant free for all. Or both. And if you thought that the previous congressional hearings on the whole ULA/SpaceX thing were fun ...

Stay tuned.

Whisky goes where no dram has gone before, Guardian

"Whisky fired into space almost four years ago as part of an experiment has returned to Earth with enhanced flavour and character, according to its creator. A vial of unmatured malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay, Scotland, was sent to the International Space Station in a cargo spacecraft in October 2011, along with particles of charred oak. Another vial of the same whisky was kept at the distillery for comparison. ... Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling, said: "The space samples were noticeably different. When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before."

ISS Commercial Research That CASIS Utterly Ignores, Earlier post (2014)

"This is an interesting commercial use of the ISS - if somewhat unconventional - one that has attracted actual private investment (from a high-quality, high-visibility, world-class manufacturer) at a time when NASA's scorecard is rather lacking in this regard. Imagine this: an actual biotech process that is being investigated in the unqiue environment of space with significant commercial backing and promotion. Of course, the NASA ISS National Lab and CASIS folks seem to be totally uninterested in how real commercial space activities happen."

Keith's note: CASIS still utterly ignores this whole project - but focuses instead on their golf game in space. Fermentation, distillation, and aging - regardless of what you are producing - are key industrial processes on Earth - ones that involve a lot of precise biochemistry. If something works differently in the space environment then that helps to expand the knowledge of microgravity-based biochemistry (both basic and applied) and the entire field moves ahead. Not so with the space-inspired golf clubs that actually do not use ISS-based research - which is what CASIS is supposed to be promoting.

Funny thing: this Ardbeg research was all done via Nanoracks - the one clear ISS success story that CASIS has had anything to do with. Oh .. but wait - this experiment was done via the ISS National Laboratory - not CASIS - so its the established policy of CASIS to ignore it. Come to think of it, the ISS National Lab people have not been chatty about this success story either.

Oh yes: when I first posted this photoshopped image in 2012 some people within NASA thought it was real and started to try and figure out how it happend i.e. a glass bottle [safety] with a brand name [no agreement?] freely floating around the ISS. Memos and phone calls happend. Oops.

Is Silicon Valley in Another Bubble . . . and What Could Burst It?, Vanity Fair

"And this is where it gets particularly murky. These are private companies, with private balance sheets, and the valuations they ascribe to themselves aren't vetted in the same way by the S.E.C. or public markets. These start-ups, in other words, can command much higher, and at times fabricated, valuations. One successful venture capitalist told me that he recently met with a unicorn [tech start-ups valued at $1 billion and upward] that was seeking a new round of funding. When he asked the C.E.O. why he had valued his company at $1 billion, he was told, "We need to be worth a billion dollars to be able to recruit new engineers. So we decided that was our valuation."

Keith's note: Silicon Valley is space business crazy right now. Everyone seems to want to have a space start-up and some of them are now buying out and devouring one another - based on hype, imaginary valuation, and the promises of space snake oil salesmen. There are smart people out there - with smart ideas and sound business plans. So far they seem to be the exception - not the rule. I have seen this movie before. Unless some actual products (with profits) emerge this bubble is bound to burst - regardless of whether Silicon Valley itself pops. As a friend of mine often says, this must have been what it was like when Rome was about to start burning.

Singapore-made device survives rocket explosion, The Straits Times

"Last October, scientists at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), National University of Singapore, were horrified when the Antares rocket exploded just seconds after take-off from a launch pad in Virginia, in the US. ... The CQT scientists thought their 300g device, embedded in a Danish satellite called GomX-2 in the rocket, and costing $12,000, had been lost. But they have been told that the satellite was found on a beach near the launch site and returned to GomSpace, the company in Denmark that built it. Assistant Professor Alexander Ling, a CQT principal investigator, told The Straits Times: "Just after the SG50 weekend, our Danish colleagues rebooted the satellite, and they sent us some data."

SpaceX wins patent round against Bezos' Blue Origin, PoliticoPro (subscription)

"The decision to invalidate the patent was issued Thursday at Blue Origin's request. The company received a mostly unfavorable preliminary ruling in March and informed the review board that it has submitted a new patent application for its product."

Blue Origin's rocket-landing patent canceled in victory for SpaceX, Geek Wire

"In an order made public today, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board granted a motion to cancel the remaining 13 of 15 claims in the Blue Origin rocket-landing patent. Blue Origin itself had made the motion to cancel those claims, effectively acknowledging that its case was lost."

- USPTO Order
- SpaceX and Blue Origin Patent Skirmish, earlier post
- SpaceX Barge Landing Patent Petition Challenge Denied - and Accepted, earlier post
- SpaceX Challenges Patent Filed by Blue Origin, earlier post
- Who Invented The Space Barge?, earlier post

Video: AIAA Space Conference - Executive Vision Discussion

"The annual AIAA Space conference is underway. In this plenary session government, business, and academic leaders engage in conversation about the direction of change in the space industry and the trends impacting future developments in space science, military space, space launch, and space exploration."

SpaceX's next launch delayed longer than expected, LA Times

"SpaceX said its next launch will be delayed longer than expected after the June 28 accident that destroyed its unmanned ship carrying cargo to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne-based company is still "a couple months away from the next flight," Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said Monday at a scientific forum in Pasadena. "We're taking more time than we originally envisioned to get back to flight," she said. "But I don't think any of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again."

Keith's note: Note: SpaceX discusses their upcoming Falcon 9 launch schedule.

NASA JSC Solicitation: Purchase of Two Vehicles for the Human Space Flight Program-Russia

"Delivered to US Embassy Moscow, Russia The contractor must provide with the bid proposal a schematic drawing showing vehicle design and dimension specifications in the form of the sample drawing. Standard manufacturer's pamphlet with the specific vehicle model being offered clearly identified and accompanied by a written statement in English by the manufacturer certifying that all solicitation specifications are met for the vehicle model being offered."

Congress, Don't Make Us Hitch Rides With Russia. Love, NASA, Charlie Bolden via Wired

"Saturday will mark 1,500 days since the Space Shuttle touched down for the final time. Grounding human spaceflights was always supposed to be temporary as we made the necessary transition to a new generation of spacecraft, operated by American commercial carriers. Likewise, paying for seats on Russian spacecraft to send our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was always intended to be a stopgap. Had Congress adequately funded President Obama's Commercial Crew proposal, we could have been making final preparations this year to once again launch American astronauts to space from American soil aboard American spacecraft. Instead we are faced with uncertaintyand we will continue to be so long as Congress resists fully investing in Commercial Crew."

- Why Is Congress Stalling NASA's Commercial Crew Program?, earlier post
- NASA Buys More Soyuz Flights Since Congress Constantly Cuts Commercial Crew, earlier post
- Mikulski Tries Unsuccessfully To Prevent Commercial Crew Funding Decrease, earlier post

Letter From NASA to Congress Regarding SpaceX and Orbital ATK Launch Failure Reviews

"Dear Chairman Smith: Thank you very much for your letter of August 4, 2015 regarding the recent space launch failures of June 28,2015 and October 28, 2014. I appreciate your sincere commitment to our Nation's leadership in space and NASA has always shared that commitment. I am pleased for the opportunity to address your concerns. I would also mention that on August 3, 2015, Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) provided a written response related to concerns that we were treating SpaceX differently than Orbital ATK with respect to our oversight of the respective accident investigations to Mr. Chris Shank, Policy Director of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. I think you will find Vice Admiral Dyer's response is in basic agreement with the contents of my letter following."

Virgin Galactic boldly goes into small satellites, telling future astronauts 'you have to wait', Telegraph

"Before the crash in November last year, there were around 750 "future astronauts" signed up to Virgin Galactic's space programme, paying $250,000 (160,000) a pop for a seat on a spacecraft SpaceShipTwo that can reach the edge of space at an altitude of 62 miles before returning to earth. Numbers have already fallen to 700. These steadfast customers, believed to include high-profile ticket holders Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Stephen Hawking, represent $175m in revenue. Whitesides, a former chief of staff for Nasa, is in a difficult position: it is necessary to keep his future astronauts sweet but with no date for the first space tourism mission, and investors to mollify, there needs to be a short-term moneyspinner or Virgin Galactic will run aground. His answer has been to pivot its business model dramatically away from human space travel, and into a burgeoning new sector: small satellite launches. This is why Virgin Galactic has rolled out the welcome mat for the UK firms they are potential customers, partners and advocates."

Virgin Galactic passenger numbers 'almost recovered' after space craft's fatal accident, Suffield Times

"Over the previous six months, Virgin Galactic has quietly reshaped its enterprise mannequin to give attention to the burgeoning small satellite tv for pc launch market, which it estimates might be equally worthwhile."

Keith's note: On one hand, there is nothing at all unusual about this business decision. Air carriers have been mixing passengers, cargo, mail etc. for the better part of a century - for obvious business reasons. Virgin Galactic is simply being smart in trying to diversify its customer base and product offering - while leveraging one against the other. On the other hand, you have to wonder who is going to write huge deposits for a flight with no clearly-known flight date. After a while more people are going to start asking for their money back - or they're going to Virgin Galactic's competitors (assuming they succeed where Virgin Galactic has not).

Keith's update: Apparently the big news is that the COBRA golf company is putting a window ("spaceport") in their new golf club. No relevance to NASA or the ISS is apparent. When asked by a reporter to explain the microgravity applications to this technology CASIS President Greg Johnson said he could not explain the microgravity or technology aspects of this thing. The Cobra representative said that he needed a golf club design that could withstand a 7,000 G impact and that the technology associated with this golf club was different than launching something into space (i.e what the ISS is there for). He added that this golf club "did not use research done in space but did use research done for space". Greg Johnson said that there is some other stuff going on in space but he cannot talk about it. What any of this has to do with CASIS, the International Space Station, or NASA is not at all apparent. Then again little of what CASIS does these days has that relevance. In fact there is no relevance. All Greg Johnson could suggest is that these new golf clubs will "inspire the next generation of scientists, golfers, engineers and explorers. Its a great story".

This whole CASIS thing is a joke. A bad joke.

- Space Golf Update: NASA Inspector General Has Noticed That CASIS is a Flop
- CASIS Announces Baseball Raffle in Space, earlier post
- CASIS Would Rather Go Golfing Than Do Actual ISS Research, earlier post
- CASIS Signs Deal with COBRA PUMA GOLF for Research on ISS, earlier post
- CASIS Defines Bedtime Stories on ISS as "Major Payload", earlier post
- CASIS Is Still Incapable of Doing Its Job, earlier post
- CASIS Is Doing a Reality TV Show in Space (Confusing Update), earlier post

Keith's note: If you look at the JSC webpage for Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 Contract you will see a schedule page that shows that proposals were received on 12/2/14. NASA originally planned to have a CRS2 award announcement in May 2015 but was delayed with the rationale being "4/16/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule Award date due to additional time required to evaluate proposals." There is a new note stating "8/7/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule to reflect an updated award date to provide additional time to evaluate Final Proposal Revisions (FPRs)." The planned CRS2 contract award date is now shown as 11/05/15. No CRS2 contract start date is shown.

Oh yes: both of the two current contractors lost a rocket and its cargo in the past year.

Orbital ATK Updates Progress on International Space Station Cargo Delivery Program for NASA, Orbital ATK

"Orbital ATK is on track to launch its next CRS mission late this year and is moving forward with integration of a new first stage propulsion system into the Antares launch vehicle in preparation for multiple CRS missions in 2016."

"Three main CRS program efforts are simultaneously underway, including preparing the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft for the next ISS cargo mission (OA-4) to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket this December; upgrading the Antares rocket by integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines with the modified first stage core structure; and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to complete repairs to the Pad 0A launch complex at Wallops Island to support the resumption of CRS missions from Wallops Island in early 2016."

- United Launch Alliance to Launch Second Orbital ATK Cygnus Spacecraft to International Space Station on Cargo Mission

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: The Air Force Needs to Adopt an Incremental Approach to Future Acquisition Planning to Enable Incorporation of Lessons Learned, GAO

"The Air Force is at risk of making decisions about future EELV acquisitions without sufficient knowledge. The Air Force plans to develop an acquisition strategy for the next phase of competitive launches before it has any actionable data from the first competitive launches. In addition, the Air Force views competition as crucial to the success of its new acquisition strategy, yet the viability of a competitive launch industry is uncertain. The launch industry is undergoing changes, and the ability of the domestic industry to sustain two or more providers in the long-term, while desirable, is unclear. Additionally, only one company is currently certified to compete with ULA for national security launches, and there are no other potential competitors in the near future. To adequately plan for future competitions and ensure informed decision making before committing to a strategy, it will be important for the Air Force to obtain knowledge about its new acquisition approach and on the launch industry."

Ad Astra Rocket Company and NASA move to execution phase of NextSTEP VASIMR partnership

"NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Program sponsors NextSTEP awards in a 50/50 cost partnership with industry. Under this award, Ad Astra will conduct a long duration, high power test of an upgraded version of the VX-200TM VASIMR prototype, the VX-200SSTM (for steady state), for a minimum of 100 hours continuously at a power level of 100 kW. These experiments aim to demonstrate the engine's new proprietary core design and thermal control subsystem and to better estimate component lifetime. The tests will be conducted in Ad Astra's large, state-of-the-art vacuum chamber in the company's Texas facility."

FAA hid study showing chronic air controller fatigue, CBS

"The study is composed of a survey of 3,268 controllers about their work schedules and sleep habits, and a field study that monitored the sleep and the mental alertness of more than 200 controllers at 30 air traffic facilities. NASA produced the study at the FAA's request. J.D. Harrington, a NASA spokesman, also declined to release the study, saying in an email that since the FAA requested it, "they own the rights to decide its release." NASA gave the scientists who conducted the study an award for the project's excellence in 2013."

Keith's note: What "rights" does the FAA "own" that NASA does not also have? NASA and the FAA are both parts of the Federal government. I'll bet the FOIA requests are flying right about now.

- Heads Up NASA Air Safety Folks, earlier post
- NRC Does Not Think Much of NASA Air Safety Study, earlier post
- NAS Report on NASA NAOMS, earlier post

Three reasons to be truly outraged by Congressional stonewalling of commercial crew, Houston Chronicle

"This week NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stepped up his war of words on Congress, saying the space agency had to extend a pricey contract with Russia through 2019 for crew transport due to under-funding of the commercial crew program. You may like Bolden, or dislike him. You may like his boss, President Obama, or you may hate him. You may like NASA's human exploration plan, or you may have questions about its viability. But you should know this for a fact: Commercial crew, a program allowing SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft and rockets to put U.S. astronauts into orbit, deserves full funding. Here are three reasons why Congressional under-funding of commercial crew is especially duplicitous."

Governor McAuliffe Announces Agreement to Continue Operation of the Virginia Commercial Space Authority

"The cost of repairs to Pad 0A are expected to be approximately $15 million at completion, split equally between Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA, and rebuild efforts are on schedule as we continue to work with our partners to return the Spaceport to operational status," said Virginia Space Authority Executive Director Dale Nash."

NASA Notifies Congress about Space Station Contract Modification with Russia

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden sent a letter to Congress Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 informing members that, due to continued reductions in the president's funding requests for the agency's Commercial Crew Program over the past several years, NASA was forced to extend its existing contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. This contract modification is valued at about $490 million dollars. The letter was delivered to the leadership of the congressional committees that oversee NASA. The full text of the letter follows:"

NASA signing $490M contract with Russia, The Hill

"The new contract extension is required because Congress has not fully funded the administration's budget requests since 2010. For fiscal year 2011, for example, Obama asked Congress for $500 million for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Congress only gave it $321 million. The next year, Obama asked for $850 million and Congress only allocated $400 million. Due to those low funding levels for five consecutive years, NASA had to ask Congress for more than $1 billion for next year. A spokeswoman for NASA said if Obama's request is fully funded, and if NASA can fully pay its contracts, the U.S. commercial vehicles could still be ready by the 2017 date."

Senate Approves U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

"The U.S. Senate, today, unanimously approved S. 1297, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, introduced by Commerce Committee Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee chairman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), full committee ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and subcommittee members Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). The legislation, which the full Commerce Committee approved by voice vote with an amendment on May 20, 2015, extends the operational use of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, a regulatory moratorium on commercial space activity through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector and other space initiatives."

For the first time Chinese research to fly on NASA's space station, Houston Chronicle

"A Houston company has negotiated a historic agreement to fly a Chinese experiment on the International Space Station, a small but symbolic maneuver around a law that bans any scientific cooperation between NASA and the communist country. Over a conference table adorned with an American and a Chinese flag, Jeff Manber last week agreed to take a DNA experiment into space next year. Manber's Houston-based company, NanoRacks, helps scientists do research on board the station. Because of decades of suspicion about Chinese motives and the country's regime, Congress prohibits NASA from working with the country in any capacity. But the new deal, which is apparently legal, could begin to change that. "It's symbolic, and it's meaningful," Manber said Monday, after returning from Beijing. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."

Keith's note: According to a NanoRacks source, in crafting this agreement with Beijing Institute of Technology, NanoRacks worked to assure compliance with the 2011 spending bill Amendment offered by former Rep. Frank Wolf which places restrictions on formal NASA cooperation with China's space program. After consultation with NASA and the Obama Administration, NanoRacks approached Professor Feng of Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and invited him to continue his immune system research using NanoRacks' commercial hardware on the ISS.

NanoRacks notes that money flows from China to the U.S.; that no hardware or technology flows to China (just a return of data and experiment samples); that this experiment has intrinsic scientific value; and that the payload uses NanoRacks hardware and is a NanoRacks customer payload as part of their normal ISS payload allocation. This is NOT a NASA/Chinese research project. In addition, this project ("DNA Mismatching During PCR Reaction Exposed to Space Environment") reflies payload hardware that was flown on Shenzou 8. As such, the payload developer already has their own independent pathway to long-duration exposure in space. Lastly, The Beijing Institute of Technology Life Sciences Department publishes their scientific results in leading Western research publications thereby assuring a full dissemination of results in compliance with the spirit of ISS basic research.

NanoRacks was informed by the Obama Administration that it believes that this project is in compliance with the Wolf Amendment. Also, in accordance with ISS International Partners agreements, member nations of the ISS were informed of this project.

Congress calls SpaceX Falcon 9 launch certification into question, Denver Post

"The June 28 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has members of Congress asking NASA and the U.S. Air Force for assurance that SpaceX is qualified to carry military payloads to space. A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. representatives sent a letter saying they have "serious reservations" about SpaceX's internal investigation process and question whether the "engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps." "We are committed to our nation's leadership in space, but equally believe we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars when it comes to achieving our priorities and goals for spaceflight," reads the letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force secretary Deborah James. The panel asked Bolden and James to outline the oversight responsibilities of NASA and the Air Force, however, some questions raised in the letter have already been addressed in other arenas. On May 28, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to carry military payloads to space, offering competition to Centennial-based United Launch Alliance for the first time in more than a decade."

Keith's note: Clearly none of these politicians understand the process they are questioning. Why aren't they questioning Orbital ATK's internal review process? FAA already has oversight over both mishap investigations. So ... are they wanting to create new regulations - or are they just ignorant of what regulations are already in place? In addition, SpaceX does its review in a much more rigorous fashion than might otherwise be the case because it is certified by the USAF - as would ULA if/when it loses a rocket. Let's see if @ToryBruno calls B.S. on this - unless (of course) ULA is behind the letter, that is ...

The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog

"This photo shows pilot Pete Siebold as he parachutes safely down to earth, with his arm up in the air to show everybody that he is alive and well." Larger image

Lack of Consideration for Human Factors Led to Breakup of SpaceShipTwo

"The NTSB determined the cause of the Oct. 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo, was Scaled Composite's failure to consider and protect against human error and the co-pilot's premature unlocking of the spaceship's feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced."

- NTSB Concludes Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Accident Investigation, Virgin Galactic
- NTSB Executive Summary: In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS, NTSB
- Virgin Galactic Executive Summary: SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Rocket-Powered Flight Test Koehn Dry Lake, California, October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic
- The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog
- Investigator-in-Charge Presentation - Lorenda Ward, NTSB
- Human Factors and Organizational Issues , Human Performance Presentation - Dr. Katherine Wilson, NTSB
- Hazard Analysis and Waivers, System Safety Presentation - Mike Hauf, NTSB

AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference Panel: Cost and Affordability of Future Systems, with Michael D. Griffin, Frank Culbertson, Mike Hawes, Lee Monson, and Mark Sirangelo

Marc's note: SpaceX, the one company driving costs down now isn't on the panel. Maybe they we're too busy to attend. Also, Blue Origin,a future player, isn't on the panel either. Neither are some of the new unproven entrants like Rocket Labs. I would think a conversation such as this would include more players.

Moderator: Michael D. Griffin,Chairman and CEO, Schafer Corporation (Moderator)

- Frank Culbertson, President Space Systems Group, Orbital ATK
- Michael Hawes, Vice President and Orion Program Manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
- Lee Monson, Vice President Sales - Middle East and Americas, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (ret.)
- Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President Space Systems, Sierra Nevada Corporation

NASA-Funded Study Reduces Cost of Human Missions to Moon and Mars by Factor of Ten, National Space Society and Space Frontier Foundation [With video of news conference]

"Note from the authors: This study by NexGen Space LLC (NexGen) was partly funded by a grant from NASA's Emerging Space office in the Office of the Chief Technologist. The conclusions in this report are solely those of NexGen and the study team authors."

Executive Summary excerpt: "This study's primary purpose was to assess the feasibility of new approaches for achieving our national goals in space. NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an "Evolvable Lunar Architecture" (ELA) that leverages commercial capabilities and
services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term."

"We evaluated an ELA concept that was designed as an incremental, low-cost and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon in a manner that directly supports NASA's long-term plan to send humans to Mars. The ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars. The study assumed A) that the United States is willing to lead an international partnership of countries that leverages private industry capabilities, and B) public-private-partnership models proven in recent years by NASA and other government agencies."

SpaceX - CRS-7 Investigation Update

"From the first indication of an issue to loss of all telemetry was just 0.893 seconds. Over the last few weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours going through the painstaking process of matching up data across rocket systems down to the millisecond to understand that final 0.893 seconds prior to loss of telemetry.

At this time, the investigation remains ongoing, as SpaceX and the investigation team continue analyzing significant amounts of data and conducting additional testing that must be completed in order to fully validate these conclusions. However, given the currently available data, we believe we have identified a potential cause."

Marc's note: Today Elon Musk of SpaceX stressed that the substance of the media briefing was preliminary analysis and not a definitive result.

Having said the likely cause of the failed Falcon 9 launch was a failed strut that broke free in the second stage liquid oxygen tank that was holding down a helium tank.

At approximately 3.2 g, the strut holding down the tank snapped. There was no evidence of damage prior to launch from close-out photos. The struts are not made in-house. The supplier was not named. Musk said that they were able to replicate failure with 1000's of struts and they found a few that did not meet specifications.

MEDIA ADVISORY: SpaceX to Hold CRS-7 Update Telecon

"SpaceX is hosting a 30-minute telecon for members of the media at noon PDT/3pm EDT on Monday, July 20 to discuss preliminary results to our investigation into the CRS-7 mishap."

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

"I am pleased to announce that four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew carriers, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before. These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."

Keith's update: I just listened to Ken Savin, the Eli Lilly representative being interviewed at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). Lilly has 4 experiments that will fly on the ISS next year. I listened to this while I was out in the woods walking. These experiments are all very basic, clear-cut and rather elegant - so much so that I came up with a parallel classroom experiment for each instantly - and I am not especially talented in that regard. Savin said that he wished there was an organization to coordinate among companies to share data and information. Gee, I thought CASIS was supposed to do this. Savin was then asked if there was some sort of database where data and ISS research results were posted. He said "I am told there is one" and that someone just sent him a link to it. I am baffled as to why CASIS could not send him this stuff earlier in the process.

Savin said that his company does not plan to make drugs in space and that they are really doing these experiments to learn. That is a rather cool thing for a large multinational pharmaceutical company to say about using the ISS. It ought to be on a NASA bumper sticker. I did a quick Google search for "Eli Lilly CASIS" and only came up with a few article links - all of them inside the space community. A search for "Eli Lilly NASA" only found a few more links.

With all the moaning and groaning and self-loathing evidenced by NASA and others at the ISSRDC about not having told the public about what they are doing and why, that someone would have flagged this sort of activity and built a much larger education and public outreach effort for it. But no. NASA and CASIS would rather complain about not being able to do this than actually trying to do it.

NASA FISO Presentation: Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans, SpaceRef

"Now available is the July 1, 2015 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Mike Gold (Bigelow Aerospace) who discussed "Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans".

Shelton Versus McCain on Import of SpaceX Failure, SpacePolicyOnline

"Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Gen. William Shelton (Ret.) view the June 28 SpaceX launch failure very differently. In a McCain statement and a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Shelton, the two take opposite positions on what should be learned from the failure in terms of national security space launches and how long Russian RD-180 engines are needed by the U.S. military to have assured access to space. The congressional push to end reliance on RD-180s began while Shelton was still on active duty and Commander of Air Force Space Command and he and McCain differed on these issues all along. At the last congressional hearing on the topic during Shelton's tenure, in July 2014, they were fully were on display. Apparently nothing has changed."

Orbital May Benefit From SpaceX's Fiery Rocket Fail, Cowen Says, Bloomberg

"SpaceX's explosive mission failure may benefit Orbital ATK Inc. as the two compete for future contracts to supply the International Space Station, according to Cowen & Co."

Analyst: Rocket Failure Unlikely To Hurt SpaceX, Forbes

"The launch failure by itself is not much of an issue," Ostrove told me. "Most people in the industry understand that launching rockets into space is really difficult and occasional failures are just the price of conducting launches. Overall, SpaceX has a pretty strong record of success (about 95%) with the Falcon 9."

McCain: Pentagon shouldn't rely on Russian rocket engines despite SpaceX explosion, The Hill

"Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended SpaceX on Monday after its Falcon 9 rocket exploded two minutes after a launch over the weekend. "I am confident that the that this minor setback will in no way impede the future success of SpaceX and its ability to support U.S. national security space missions," he said in a statement, noting the company has previously launched seven successful trips."

Will SpaceX explosion impact Air Force launch competitions?, Defense Systems

"The explosion Sunday of a Space X Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff directly affected NASA and a resupply mission to the International Space Station, but its aftershocks could affect the military's plans for future launches of its spy satellites."

SpaceX Falcon 9 Mishap: More Details Emerge, SpaceRef

"According to SpaceX telemetry received from the Dragon spacecraft showed that it too was functioning after the mishap occurred and telemetry continued to be sent back from Dragon for a significant period of time. SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point."

Impact of CRS-7 Loss

Another major rocket failure for a space industry out to prove itself, Washington Post

"SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital ATK won contracts to carry cargo to the station. Then last year, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop capsules that can carry astronauts to the space station, with the first such mission scheduled for December 2017. Politics may confound that. Congress recently slashed more than $300 million from the administration's budget request for the commercial crew program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the cuts would delay the mission by two years. And that was before Sunday's SpaceX failure."

Keith's note: Dan Billow specifically asked for an answer from both SpaceX and NASA as to whether a destruct signal was sent to the Falcon 9. Gwen Shotwell answered. NASA did not.

Keith's update: When I asked NASA PAO "Did the Range Safety Officer send a signal to the Falcon 9 to self-destruct?" they replied "No, the range didn't have a chance."

SpaceX Falcon 9 Mishap: More Details Emerge, SpaceRef

"SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point."

SpaceX Launch Failure

Keith's note: The Falcon 9 Carrying CRS-7 either exploded or was destroyed shortly after launch a few minutes ago. SpaceX has assembled a team to look into this. NASA has referred to a launch vehicle "failure" and that the last data came down from the vehicle at T+ 2:19. No more news or NASA TV until contingency press conference no earlier than 12:00 pm 12:30 pm 12:50 pm 1:00 pm EDT.

- SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Fails on Launch, SpaceRef

Keith's note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

Keith's note: This slow motion video from Astronomy Now shows that the Falcon 9 engines seem to be burning well after the explosion - and also that something shaped like a Dragon is seen exiting the cloud. Note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

Tory Bruno, ULA
Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin
Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne
Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK
Katrina McFarland, DoD
John Hyten, USAF Space Command
Jeffrey Thornburg, SpaceX
Samuel Greaves, USAF Space and Missiles Systems Center
Michael Griffin, himself

Hearing: Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American industry to end reliance on Russian rocket engines

Keith's note: The House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing Friday with quite a cast of characters - Tory Bruno, Rob Meyerson, Julie Van Kleeck, Frank Culbertson, Jeff Thornburg, Katrina McFarland, John Hyten, Samuel Greaves, and, to round out the fun, Mike Griffin. This hearing ought to be a classic example of the old Washington adage "where you stand depends on where you sit".

You can catch the live tweeting stream from this morning's hearing that was posted on Twitter by @NASAWatch by following tweets with the #RD180 hashtag

SpaceX Prepared Testimony by Jeffrey Thornburg

"Continued reliance by U.S. launch providers on risky foreign supply chains for major subsystemsincluding propulsionhas materially weakened the U.S. industrial base. Now, however, private industry is investing internal funds to restore America's leading edge in rocket technology. As a matter of industrial policy, it makes little sense to extend reliance on foreign sources of key subsystems when American technology can step in today."

United Launch Alliance Discusses Future Innovations While Maintaining Industry Leading Reliability and Capability

"To end use of the RD-180 engine and make commercial investments in a new engine and system that will meet our national launch requirements, ULA needs the ability to compete into the next decade," said Bruno. "The House has correctly addressed concern over the RD-180 engine by allowing ULA to use engines already on contract while prohibiting additional purchases, which reflects the original intent of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act."

NASA JSC Solicitation: Open Innovation Challenge

"NASA/JSC has a requirement for the use of an established external crowdsourcing support platform with a curated crowd in order to publically post one challenge (external to NASA) to enable interaction with an existing global solver network. Specifically, NASA requires the use of an established platform in order to run a single, short-duration challenge. NASA/JSC intends to purchase the items from InnoCentive, Inc. due to the substantial duplication of cost that is not expected to be recovered through competition. Unacceptable delays in fulfilling the agency's requirements would result given any other action due to current circumstances. ... Interested organizations may submit their capabilities and qualifications to perform the effort in writing to the identified point of contact not later than 4:30 p.m. local time on June 29, 2015. Such capabilities/qualifications will be evaluated solely for the purpose of determining whether or not to conduct this procurement on a competitive basis."

Keith's note: JSC issued this non-compete notice on 24 June and wants anyone who thinks that they can do the tasks to reply before COB on 29 June - that's 5 days, 2 of which are on a weekend. Curiously, the original response date listed on the solicitation was 6 July 2015. I guess someone someone is in a hurry.

JSC also issued this cluster of NASA Open Innovation Services contract awards all awarded 4 June but only announced on 23/24 June - each of which states "Contract Award Amount: 20000000" ($20,000,000) - and each of which says "Multiple Award Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) for NASA Open Innovation Services (NOIS) were awarded NTE $ 20M overall." to Tongual, Inc., Patexia, The Common Pool LLC, Ideo LP, Ninesigma, Inc., Luminary Labs, LLC, Kaggle Inc., HeroX PBC, Appirio Inc., - and Innocentive, Inc.

All of these awards were made in response to this 2014 Open Innovation Services solicitation NNJ15517388R. Although there seems to be a limit of $20,000,000 for JSC to play with, it would seem that all of the awards have a potential award of $20,000,000. So ... it would seem that JSC is not exactly sure who is going to be doing what - but that they will need 10 companies to do the innovation stuff and split the $20,000,000 in a TBD fashion. Competition seems to have been somewhat pointless given that so many awards were made. There is no press release from JSC on these awards - and only a contract specialist is listed, so ...

Senate Passes FY2016 Defense Authorization, But Blocked on Defense Appropriations, Space Policy Online

"The Air Force is trying to convince Congress to give it a few more years to make the transition, arguing that it needs more time to develop, test and certify a new launch system (of which an engine is part). It wants an extension to 2022. The House-passed FY2016 NDAA provides that flexibility, but the Senate bill insists on 2019. The RD-180 and launch competition issues have become entwined. ULA has been a monopoly provider of launch services to the Air Force and intelligence community since it was created in 2006, but now a competitor, SpaceX, has emerged. DOD, the Air Force and ULA assert that they embrace the drive for competition, but want to make certain SpaceX does not itself become a monopoly provider in the 2019-2022 time frame when Atlas V's no longer can be launched (because RD-180s are prohibited), but a ULA alternative is not ready. These issues not only split the House and Senate authorizing committees, but the Senate authorizing and appropriations committees. McCain's Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is the one holding DOD's feet to the fire on 2019, while the other three are siding with DOD."

Knights Templar Inspired Business Moves at ULA, earlier post

SpaceX Early-adopter SES Ready To Reuse Falcon 9 For the Right Price, SpaceNews

"Satellite fleet operator SES on June 17 said it wants to reuse the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the SES-9 satellite by September for a future, discounted SpaceX launch, and is awaiting the response of SpaceX. In a presentation to investors in London, SES Chief Technical Officer Martin Halliwell said he remains convinced that Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is on the verge of proving its reusability thesis, which is that recovering, refurbishing and reusing a Falcon 9 first stage will dramatically reduce launch costs."

Keith's note: Certified pre-owned rockets anyone?

UrtheCast Releases First Full-Color HD Videos from the International Space Station, SpaceRef Business

"Today UrtheCast released their first full-color HD video of Earth filmed in roughly 1 meter resolution of London, Boston and Barcelona."

Marc's note: It's quite something to watch cars drive around from LEO.

Lockheed says rocket launch venture hinges on U.S. law waiver

"Lockheed Martin Corp issued a warning on Sunday over the viability of its rocket launch joint venture with Boeing Co, saying the venture urgently needed the United States to waive a law banning the use of Russian engines to launch military and spy satellites. Rick Ambrose, who heads Lockheed's space business, told Reuters in an interview that concerns about the United Launch Alliance (ULA) venture's prospects had prompted the partners to approve funding for its new U.S.-powered Vulcan rocket only one quarter at time."

Mikulski Amendment Rejected - No Relief for NASA in Senate Appropriations Markup

"The amendment was defeated by a 14-16 party line vote. CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the amendment, but said that if a new budget deal is indeed negotiated, he will work with Mikulski on how to allocate any additional funding."

CSF Applauds Mikulski Amendment to Avoid Extending U.S. Reliance on the Russians

"Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill. The bill increases NASA's budget by $279 million above its FY 2015 budget, but underfunds NASA's Commercial Crew program by more than $300 million. Failing to fully fund the Commercial Crew program in FY 2016 would result in the United States human spaceflight gap being extended, again, and ensuring further payments to the Russians for launches of American astronauts to the ISS beyond 2017. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice-Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment that would have restored the $300 million to the Commercial Crew program, avoiding a further gap and reliance on the Russians. The Committee failed to adopt the amendment."

Coalition for Space Exploration Statement on CJS Appropriations Bill

"The Coalition for Space Exploration is grateful for the strong bipartisan leadership demonstrated by Chairman Shelby and Vice-Chairwoman Mikulski in support of our nation's space exploration program in the FY 2016 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill advanced by the committee today."

Get Putin Out of Our Rockets, Roll Call

"But ULA isn't happy with these restrictions and has been using its influence in Congress to push back. Indeed, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., whose district houses a major ULA factory has introduced a bill rolling back the limits on Russian engines. At the same time, ULA has decided to limit production of its American-made Delta IV launcher in an effort to strong arm the U.S. military into purchasing the RD-180 until at least 2020. This underhanded tactic might benefit ULA, but it'll endanger U.S. security while enriching Russia. ULA is able to execute such a ploy because of its long monopoly on rockets for national-security launches. America's interests would be far better served if we leveraged our existing, homegrown alternatives and encouraged U.S. technology and engineering companies to re-join the global space race."

Keith's note: Sen. John McCain raised the issue of continued purchase of Russian RD-180 engines on the Senate floor yesterday.

Transcript below (edited for typos)

Tech billionaires aim for cheaper spaceflight, Seattle Times

"Originally, SpaceX was to provide the booster rocket; Vulcan then switched to relying on rocket-maker Orbital ATK. As recently as last fall, Beames spoke about a plan to put a human-crewed spacecraft developed by Sierra Nevada on the tip of the Orbital booster rocket. But now that human spaceflight plan is shelved, along with Orbital's planned rocket. Beames said Orbital's rocket "was not hitting the economic sweet spot to generate revenue," so Vulcan has reopened the design plan and is "evaluating over 70 different launch vehicle variants."

SpaceX Video: Falling Back to Earth

"A GoPro inside a fairing from a recent Falcon 9 flight captured some spectacular views as it fell back to Earth. Footage is played in real time. Music: Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II"

Don't Back Down on Russian Sanctions, editorial, New York Times

"... But in recent years, Mr. Putin has become increasingly at odds with the United States. Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of the defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing also known as ULA, has become the Pentagon's primary rocket maker and gets its engines from NPO Energomash, a Russian company that reportedly has close ties to Mr. Putin. Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, says NPO Energomash could gain $300 million on engine sales that are to end under the law. The Pentagon, backed by ULA and American intelligence agencies, is pushing to change the law, arguing that additional Russian engines will be needed for at least a few more years."

- USAF Admits The Obvious on RD-180 Engines, earlier post
- Breaking The RD-180 Addiction, earlier post

Hosting of Humanoid Robots and Validation of Performance for The NASA Space Robotics Challenge Appendix

"In 2012, NASA began the design and development of a new bipedal humanoid robot, R5, through the DRC. NASA seeks to advance innovation in basic and applied research and technology development for humanoid robots, like R5, with a focus on the performance of tasks related to space exploration missions. NASA seeks to advance space technology by providing additional units of R5 to the robotics community for active research of high-level humanoid behaviors. These robots are intended to be the instruments for the SRC, which NASA will administer separately through the Centennial Challenges Program beginning in 2016."

Keith's note: The R5 robot aka "Valkyrie" was developed in semi-secret by NASA JSC. Several years ago it tied for dead last in the previous DARPA challenge and can't compete this week. But JPL's Robosimian did much better last time and is competing again this year. So ... why is NASA investing all this money in R5, a last place robot design? Why not go with Robosimian instead? Or ... is NASA hoping that external teams, freed (somewhat) from internal NASA issues, might be able to rescue Valkyrie from all of its problems? If so, then maybe that's not so bad of an idea. But why does NASA need to make the R5 copies for people to use? Why not just open source the design and post it online so that others can build (and improve upon) it? After all, taxpayers paid for it. That way you get more R5 units.

Why not post Robonaut's design online too? And Opportunity's? Wouldn't it be cool if the first robot that students build is one that is based upon the actual design of real robots that really work in space? As for the usual ITAR silliness NASA often cites when you ask them to release information like this - what's the big deal? R5 does not work very well (on a good day), placed last among its peers - 2 years ago, and is clearly nowhere as sophisticated as other robots. Maybe someone else can make it work better.

NASA needs to take a page from the Lego Mindstorms playbook - after the public started to tinker with their in-house designs.

- Does NASA Have a Robotics Strategy? Did It Ever Have One?, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Keith's note: Why were all of these NASA folks at the New York Stock Exchange today? This article appeared at today - but its just a a classic say-nothing, click bait puff piece using all the catch phrases like "Journey to Mars" at least once. These smiling NASA people are shown at the NYSE but no explanation is offered as to why they were there. Was there a meeting? Was some MOU signed? Or did NASA just spend a lot of money for these folks to travel to NYC to take a selfie and ring a bell at the NYSE to give the impression that things are happening on ISS?

OK, so its a PR stunt. I get it. But does CASIS make any mention of this NYSE event on their webpage or the article NASA posted? No. Does the ISS National Laboratory mention this on their webpage? No.

Also, its odd that John Yembrick from NASA PAO (who does not work on ISS commercial stuff) is on the podium yet no one from Nanoracks is present. Nanoracks is one of the real stars of ISS commerce these days.

GAO Progress Report on CASIS: Disappointing, earlier post

"CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving. In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed. Using the established metrics, NASA is required by the cooperative agreement to perform an annual program review of CASIS's performance."

Air Force Releases Rocket Propulsion System Prototypes RFP

"Today the Space and Missile Systems Center released a formal solicitation seeking proposals for shared public-private investments in rocket propulsion system prototypes. This solicitation is part of a comprehensive Air Force plan to transition off the Russian supplied RD-180 propulsion system used on the Atlas V rocket by investing in industry launch solutions with the ultimate goal to competitively procure launch services in a robust domestic launch market."

Breaking The RD-180 Addiction, earlier post

NASA SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 Appendix F1: NASA Flight Opportunities Now Open

"The purpose of this Appendix is to provide funding for the testing or demonstration of crosscutting space technologies in relevant environments through flights on reusable suborbital launch vehicles. These flight tests should fit into an overall technology maturation plan as a bridge between laboratory testing and demonstration in Earth orbit or beyond. The proposer's organization will purchase the proposed flight(s) on currently available U.S. commercial parabolic or suborbital reusable platforms of their choice."

Jim Rose

James Turner Rose

"James Turner Rose, 1935-2015, known throughout the space community to have been an early pioneer of space as a place for commercial pursuits, Jim Rose was among the first to develop a business proposition that involved capturing the advantages of microgravity. He created Electrophoresis Operations In Space (EOS), the first joint endeavor agreement between industry and NASA to bring space commercialization into reality."

Planet Labs Turned Its Interns into Company Leaders with This Program,

"Seeing the actual hardware there really excites people when they come around," [Chris] Boshuizen says. You know that you're working on game-changing solutions the trick now is to convince bright new talent that they can and will have a meaningful role in that work as well. You want to come armed with tons of examples and compelling stories about what past interns have had the chance to do and what they've been able to build. This is your best weapon for standing out. If you can bring some visuals of what work and life is like during the program showing off how hands-on interns get to be that's even better."

Keith's note: Guess where this company's senior management came from - and where they learned how (and how not) to do this? Does NASA apply their lessons learned? Of course not. NASA can't even be bothered to make note of their ongoing success in space.

International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory, GAO

"- CASIS, however, has not been able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement to interact with the ISS National Laboratory Advisory Committee, which NASA was statutorily required to establish under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, because NASA has yet to staff the committee as required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2008. As a result, CASIS is not able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement that requires it to coordinate with this committee and review any report or recommendations it originates.

- NASA and CASIS did not establish measurable targets for these performance metrics, and NASA's annual assessment of CASIS was not documented.

- CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving. In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed. Using the established metrics, NASA is required by the cooperative agreement to perform an annual program review of CASIS's performance."

USAF Space and Missiles System Center Certifies SpaceX for National Security Space Missions

"Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, has announced the certification of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Falcon 9 Launch System for national security space missions. SpaceX is now eligible for award of qualified national security space launch missions as one of two currently certified launch providers. The first upcoming opportunity for SpaceX to compete to provide launch services is projected to be in June when the Air Force releases a Request for Proposal (RFP) for GPS III launch services."

Lockheed-Boeing rocket venture needs commercial orders to survive, Reuters

"Bruno last week announced a 30-percent cut in management as part of the restructuring. On Thursday he said Boeing and Lockheed were still approving investment in the new Vulcan rocket only one quarter at a time given uncertainty about how Russian engines the company can use to compete for national security launches. He said the Air Force had a strong argument to request a Pentagon waiver if Congress continues to block use of Russian engines ordered but not paid for before the Crimea invasion. Barring a waiver or change in the current law, ULA would only be able to compete for five Air Force launches between 2019 and 2022, when the new rocket is expected to be certified. ULA says its other rocket, the Delta 4, costs too much to compete. "We must have access to the Atlas as a competitive platform until we have the replacement rocket engine. There really is no Plan B," he said."

America Plays Russian Rocket Roulette, Wall Street Journal

"But recent allegations that Mr. Putin's cronies gain big rewards from the RD-180s (by inflating delivered engine costs and taking other markups via various middlemen) are damaging to the pro-Russian-rocket side. After a November 2014 Reuters report on the purchases of rockets with RD-180 engines, Sen. John McCain said in a statement that he had long been concerned that U.S. taxpayers "are paying millions of dollars to companies that may have done no work but merely served as a 'pass-through' to enrich corrupt Russian businessmen connected with Vladimir Putin." Let's be clear: No one should play down the significance of the Air Force's concern about ensuring reliable access to space. And despite some bluster in Moscow about holding up shipments of RD-180 engines, no reports have surfaced of delivery delays. Moscow desperately needs the hard currency."

Putin-backed RD-180 Markup Scheme Unveiled, earlier post

McCarthy-Smith SPACE Act Passes with Broad Bipartisan Support, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today joined House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in praising passage of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 or SPACE Act. Almost 50 Democrats joined Republicans to pass the bill with broad bipartisan support, 284-133."

"House Passes Commercial Space Industry Wish List - Misses Opportunity to Pass Bill that Could Become Law, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"Today the House passed H.R. 2262, the SPACE Act of 2015. The bill takes a fundamentally unbalanced approach to the issues facing the commercial space launch industry. Moving far beyond addressing the legitimate needs of the industry, the bill is heavily skewed towards industry's desires. .. Congresswoman Edwards said, "Pursuing House passage of a bill that is going nowhere in the Senate seems to me to be the ultimate exercise in futility, and one that does a real disservice to the commercial space launch industry that we all are trying to help succeed. But we don't have to go down that path."

- Pro-Commercial Space Bills Approved in Committee, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Congress Can Help the Commercial Launch Industry This Week if We're All Willing to Work Together, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
- Hultgren: SPACE Act Facilitates Pro-Growth Environment for Commercial Space Sector (with video)
- The Facts Behind SPACE Act, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Chairman Smith Speaks in Support of SPACE Act (Remarks), House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Recent posts on Congress and NASA

First In Humans Clinical Trial Demonstrates Non-Invasive Expulsion of Kidney Stones, NSBRI

"The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) announced that Dr. Jonathan Harper will present the findings of an FDA-registered "first in humans" trial to non-surgically propel and expel kidney stones from the body, during today's plenary session at the 2015 American Urological Association (AUA) annual meeting in New Orleans. ... This clinical trial has been advanced with funding from NSBRI, as a project within the portfolio of the Institute's Smart Medical Systems and Technology (SMST) Team. The goal of the SMST Team is to develop intelligent, integrated medical systems to deliver quality health care during spaceflight and exploration. New technologies developed by this team also deliver immediate benefits for medical care on Earth."

Keith's note: NASA funding into space exploration has resulted in technology with clear potential to deliver health benefits to the population as whole back on Earth. This is the sort of "spinoff" NASA yearns to develop. But try and find mention of this news online at NASA at ISS National Lab, CASIS, NASA Spinoff page, NASA Technology, etc. You won't. Why?

Lockheed-Boeing venture lays off 12 executives in major reorganization, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Friday said it was cutting its executive ranks by 30 percent in December through what it called voluntary departures by 12 executives. Tory Bruno, chief executive of the venture, told Reuters in an emailed statement the layoffs were part of ULA's ongoing efforts to adapt to what he called "an increasingly competitive business environment" and redesign its leadership team. ULA, formed by the two largest U.S. weapons makers in 2006, has long been the sole company able to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites into orbit, but the Air Force expects to certify a new rival, privately-held Space Exploration Technologies, to compete for some of those launches next month."

A Bad Day for Russia

ISS Orbit Correction Failed, Sputnik News

"Engines of the Progress M-26M cargo spacecraft, which is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS), did not start on time, and a planned correction of the ISS orbit could not be carried out, a source in the Russian Federal Space Agency said Saturday."

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 18 May 2015

"A reboost of the International Space Station using the Russian Progress 58 cargo craft was completed successfully on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. CDT. A previous attempt on Friday evening was aborted one second into the burn automatically by the Progress vehicle. Russian flight controllers identified an issue with one of the eight thrusters on the spacecraft that was disabled for Sunday's backup attempt."

Russian Proton Rocket Experiences Anomaly Shortly After Launch [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"Almost exactly to the day a year after Russia lost a Proton-M rocket, yet another Proton-M has failed. In this latest setback to the Russian commercial space program, today's Proton-M rocket appeared to launch normally, but failed soon into the launch and did not deliver its payload, a Mexican satellite, to orbit."

Marc's note: The Russians must be besides themselves with all these anomalies ongoing. It begs the question, if the Progress and Protons are having issues, could the venerable Soyuz have issues going forward?

Sen. Cruz and Ranking Member Nelson Introduce U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

"Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) released the following statement regarding S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, that he filed with U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) that extends the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, extends the regulatory moratorium through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector, among other initiatives."

McCain rejects Pentagon push for more Russian rocket engines, Reuters

"U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Wednesday rejected a request by U.S. officials for changes in federal law to let the two largest U.S. arms makers use more Russian rocket engines to compete for military satellite launches against privately held SpaceX. McCain's comments reflect frustration among some lawmakers about the Pentagon's failure to halt purchases of the RD-180 Russian engines after Russia's annexation of Crimea. As SpaceX becomes a potential competitor to current monopoly launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, billions of dollars of orders are at stake and both sides are lobbying lawmakers hard."

Postponement of Flight Plans, Sarah Brightman

"Sarah Brightman announced today that she is postponing her plans to launch aboard the upcoming Soyuz TMA-18M spaceflight mission. Ms. Brightman said that for personal family reasons her intentions have had to change and she is postponing her cosmonaut training and flight plans at this time. She would like to express her extreme gratitude to Roscosmos, Energia, GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City, NASA and all the cosmonauts and astronauts, for their support during this exciting time in her life."

Humans to Mars Summit 2015 - Political Roundtable, Building Political Sustainability, SpaceRef Business

"While there were plenty of interesting sessions at the Humans to Mars Summit it was the political roundtable which brought home some of the key messages of the conference."

Dragon Abort Test Successful (Photos and Video)

5 Things to Know About SpaceX's Pad Abort Test

"This will be the first flight test of SpaceX's revolutionary new launch abort system, and the odds of encountering delays or issues are high. Fortunately the test doesn't need to be perfect to be valuable--our primary objective is to capture as much data as possible as the data captured here will be key in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017."

DHS and NASA Technology Helps Save Four in Nepal, DHS

"Four men trapped under as much as 10 feet of bricks, mud and other debris have been rescued in Nepal thanks to a new search-and-rescue technology developed in partnership by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The device called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) uses microwave-radar technology to detect heartbeats of victims trapped in wreckage. Following the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, two prototype FINDER devices were deployed to support search and rescue teams in the stricken areas."

"FINDER" Search and Rescue Technology Demo May 7 in Virginia

NASA Briefing: SpaceX Commercial Crew Pad Abort Test

"A May 1 news briefing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, previewed the pad abort test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for no earlier than Wednesday, May 6."

First Developmental Flight of New Shepard

"Today (29 April 2015) we flew the first developmental test flight of our New Shepard space vehicle. Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return."

There is a markup session tomorrow at 12:00 pm EDT with the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Markup. It certainly looks like Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is trying to slip in language that would allow more Russian-built RD-180 engines to be purchased using tax dollars at the same time when Rogers is (otherwise) actively promoting policies that would punish the exact same sector of Russia's economy for actions in Ukraine and Iran, treaty violations, and other bad behavior.

Running Out Of Rockets

Before decade is out all US military satellites may be grounded, The Hill

"Today, the launch infrastructure of the United States National Security Space (NSS) -- comprised of the Department of Defense (DoD), the Services and the Intelligence Community (IC) -- is teetering on the edge of a gap in capability which, in less than five years, could mean no capacity to launch the bulk of critical national security missions for as long as ten years. We are close to retiring our existing fleet of launch vehicles without new ones to assure our access to space."

Russia Threatens U.S. Space Program, CNN

"The short-term goal should be to transition to existing American-manufactured launch vehicles, as opposed to phasing out systems such as the Delta IV, which continue to provide critical capability. In the long term, next-generation development programs should not involve major Russian subsystems and components."

Orbital, GenCorp spar over cause of October rocket crash, Reuters

"Orbital ATK Inc and engine maker GenCorp Inc on Tuesday offered competing explanations for what caused the Oct. 28 explosion of Orbital's Antares rocket, bound for the International Space Station. Ronald Grabe, Orbital's executive vice president and president of its flight systems group, told the annual Space Symposium conference that an investigation led by his company had concluded the explosion was caused by excessive wear in the bearings of the GenCorp engine. GenCorp said its own probe showed that the wear in the bearings was likely caused by debris in the engine."

Report: Environmental impact of Wallops explosion, DelMarva Now

"Despite initial concerns, and ash that rained down in the area, a final report on the environmental impact of the explosion shows only two recommendations moving forward -- a groundwater study, and possible continued monitoring. The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority report also details the steps taken after the explosion to contain any adverse impacts. While Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford said he was concerned immediately following the explosion, he was impressed with the federal reaction."

Keith's note: YouTube has flagged this video on copyright grounds. The creators tell me that they are working the issue and that it should be working again now.

U.S. satellite launcher gets first request for Vulcan rocket - change the name, Reuters

"Hours after unveiling its next-generation "Vulcan" rocket, the company that launches most of America's satellites, United Launch Alliance, ran into its first problem - the rocket's name. "Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc. and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights," Chuck Beames, president of the Paul Allen-backed Vulcan Aerospace told Reuters. "Paul Allen and Vulcan were early leaders within space exploration with the launch of SpaceShipOne more than a decade ago. We are flattered by ULA's tribute to our legacy by naming their new rocket 'Vulcan,'" Beames added."

Falcon 9 Launches Supplies to the Space Station

"The mission is the company's sixth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract."

SpaceX Successfully Launches Cargo Resupply Mission to the ISS but Fails to Recover Falcon 1st Stage, SpaceRef

"SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station today to deliver over 1950kg of supplies. The attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage on the drone ship in the Atlantic failed as the rocket toppled over after landing according to CEO Elon Musk."

ULA Unveils Next Generation Launch System with a Little Showmanship [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"At a news conference at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno unveiled their Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) with a crowdsourced new name, Vulcan.

Showing some of the showmanship that Elon Musk of SpaceX has been known for, Bruno tried to follow in Musk's footsteps ratcheting up the marketing hype to a level not seen in recent years at a ULA event."

Marc's Note: Competition is good. It's good for both companies, it's good for America, it's good as it should eventually drive down costs. The question is, can ULA really compete? Can they adapt from their culture to a something like a SpaceX silicon valley culture? It should be fun to watch.

United Launch Alliance Unveils America's New Rocket - Vulcan: Innovative Next Generation Launch System will Provide Country's Most Reliable, Affordable and Accessible Launch Service

"United Launch Alliance (ULA) unveiled its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) today at the 31st Space Symposium. The new rocket, Vulcan, will transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible."

NASA SpaceX CRS-6 Pre-Launch News Briefings [Watch]

"Today, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on the 6th SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Yesterday, NASA held three news briefings to discuss the mission and research on the ISS."

Marc's note: At the briefing, SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann was asked what the probability of success for the Falcon 9 first stage landing on the drone ship. His response was 75% and then he said perhaps 80%. It seems SpaceX is quite a bit more confident on this third attempt.

Marc's update: The launch was scrubbed until Tuesday at 4:10 pm EDT due to weather. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 50-50.

Blue Origin Completes Acceptance Testing of BE-3 Engine for New Shephard Suborbital Flight

"Blue Origin recently completed acceptance testing of its BE-3 rocket engine, the first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the United States in more than a decade. "The BE-3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests," said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin founder. "We test, learn, refine and then test again to push our engines. The Blue Origin team did an outstanding job exploring the corners of what the BE-3 can do and soon we'll put it to the ultimate test of flight."

Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee--Open Meeting (agenda)

"The meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the National Transportation Safety Board Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza SW., Washington, DC 20594. This will be the 61st meeting of the COMSTAC."

Keith's note: The meeting is supposed to be webcast at but it says that it will not start at 1 pm ET even though the meeting began at 8 am ET with a presentation by NASA Administrator Bolden. So ... half of the meeting is not being webcast. Odd.

Keith's update: FAA responded that the morning is just working group meetings so it won't be webcast. Yet Charlie Bolden just spoke. Is he in a working group? This is a bit of a bait and switch since the original agenda FAA sent us late last week (and had on their website) had NASA Administrator Bolden, FAA AA Nield, and Rep. Fattah as speakers. Again, are they working group members? Further, the FAA webpage says the webcast starts at 1:00 pm ET yet their agenda shows a start at 1:30 pm ET. Also - there is no indication that the afternoon is a full committee meeting. (Needlessly) Confusing.

U.S. to modify launch capability deal for Lockheed-Boeing Venture, Reuters

"The U.S. Air Force must modify its annual "launch capability" contract with United Launch Alliance, to level the playing field for new competitors of the joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, senior U.S. Air Force and Pentagon officials told lawmakers on Wednesday. ... [Air Force Space Command Commander General John Hyten] said the contract made it impossible to have a fair competition, backing an argument often made by privately held Space Exploration Technologies. The company, also called SpaceX, hopes to be certified by June to compete for some satellite launches now carried out solely by ULA."

- Fiscal Year 2016 National Security Space Hearing, House Armed Services Committee, 25 March 2015

- Prepared Testimony

NASA Proposed Rule: Federal Acquisition Regulation; List of Domestically Nonavailable Articles

"SUMMARY: DoD, GSA, and NASA are considering amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to update the list of domestically nonavailable articles under the Buy American Act. DoD, GSA, and NASA are seeking information that will assist in identifying domestic capabilities and for evaluating whether some articles on the list of domestically nonavailable articles are now mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available commercial quantities and of a satisfactory quality. ... The current domestically nonavailable listing at FAR 25.104 is as follow: ... Beef, corned, canned ... Cashew nuts ... Fair linen, altar ... Goat hair canvas ... Hemp yarn ... Rabbit fur felt ..."

Sierra Nevada Corporation and Houston Airport System Announce New Agreement

"Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC's Space Systems. "Through this agreement, we want to promote broad awareness of the importance of utilizing low-Earth orbit as a source of research, science and the expansion of space flight that are critical to Houston's ongoing position as a 'Space City.' Houston has earned its place at the forefront of space exploration with such institutes as NASA's Johnson Space Center, Rice Space University, the Texas Medical Center, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and many other organizations."

SpaceX mocks rival in tetchy congressional hearing

"The two made a number of pointed comments about each other before Ms Shotwell responded sarcastically when asked why SpaceX thought it could provide launches to the US government for an average $100m. SpaceX claims ULA's launches cost US taxpayers an average of $400m each. Ms Shotwell was asked why the company claimed to be able to offer its services for 25 per cent of the ULA price. "It's hard for me to say," Ms Shotwell replied. "I don't know how to build a $400m rocket. The more difficult question would be to say that I don't understand how ULA are as expensive as they are."

How SpaceX and Elon Musk could conquer the market for military satellite launches, Washington Post

"If [ULA] stops the Delta IV rocket launches," said Rogers, "is there anybody else that can compete with you for those missions?" Shotwell struggled to answer, referring vaguely to there being international launch providers. She then went back and conceded that the Pentagon probably wouldn't trust those international services with sensitive military payloads. That was precisely the point, said Rogers. "You would have a monopoly, is where I'm going on this," he said."

- Watch the hearing (archive)
- Witness statements: Tory Bruno, Gwynne Shotwell, John Hyten, William LaPlante, Katrina McFarland, and Mitch Mitchell

Keith's note: Lockheed Martin just started a big media rollout for their new cargo concept for NASA's CRS-2 contract. Included in the PR effort are some infographics. Everyone makes mistakes, but given the large amount of money they are pouring into all of this, you'd think that they'd use a spell checker.

Keith's update: Looks like they fixed the typos. Here are the original image files [1][2]

A new space race emerges as NASA prepares to award contract to ferry supplies to space station, Washington Post

"Lugging groceries and supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station may not be as cool as ferrying the astronauts themselves into orbit. But the NASA contract to fly cargo to the station in unmanned rocket ships has attracted bids from high-profile companies in what analysts say is another indication of commercial spaceflight's recent renaissance. It appears that at least five space firms have submitted proposals for the work, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which didn't bother to bid on the work the last time. In a new sort of space race, the contract has touched off an intense competition between stalwart defense contractors and new space start-ups that have, in just a few years, shown they can compete."


"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ("SpaceX") filed a Petition ("Pet.") for inter partes review of U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 B2 ("the '321 patent"). The Petition challenges the patentability of claims 14 and 15 of the '321 patent on the ground of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103.1 Blue Origin LLC, the owner of the '321 patent, did not file a Preliminary Response to the Petition."

"IV. CONCLUSION Because the challenged claims are not amenable to construction, we are unable to reach a determination on the reasonable likelihood of SpaceX prevailing on the prior art ground asserted in the Petition.

V. ORDER For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that the Petition is denied."

Keith's note: The title of this post is taken directly from words and statements used in the USPTO decision. Read the document. As best as I can figure this legal mumbo jumbo out, everyone involved is confused about what the patent claims and whether it can be challenged - and if so, how. Yet the SpaceX Internet fan boys are all over social media chastising non-believers and saying that this is a big win for SpaceX while others are saying that its a win for Blue Origin. Indeed, sources inside SpaceX now say that this decision is good for them.

If SpaceX thinks that this decision is good for them - and they want people to know that this is good for them - then they need to put out a statement that says so. Expecting the Internet to figure it out - clearly and accurately - and then tell the world - is not going to work.

Keith's update: But wait. There's more. There is another USPTO document (see excerpt below) that just fell out of cyberspace into my inbox wherein USPTO agrees with claims made by SpaceX. Taken together these two documents are not a formal decision for - or against - Blue Origin/SpaceX. The patent is still the patent and more lawyers will need to weigh in before anyone changes anything in that patent - if anything is ever changed. My point still stands with regard to letting Internet chatter suffice for statements by the actual parties to this dispute (SpaceX and Blue Origin) and I await their responses/non-responses.

Reader note: "FYI I tried to reach CASIS by phone. When you call their CASIS Corporate Headquarters listed here i.e. 321.253.5101 and hit 3 for "Contracts" you get a dead end. Your call is eventually disconnected.

ULA ready to compete against Elon Musk's space startup, CEO says, Washington Post

"Still, [ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno] also said that ULA is far more reliable in launching on schedule than SpaceX. When asked if he thought it was risky to rely on SpaceX he said, "I do." "We have a perfect mission success record and our schedule certainty is also substantial," he said. "Launching on time is huge." SpaceX took exception to Bruno's comments. "The Air Force and the taxpayers deserve more from ULA and its latest CEO, whose remarks are purposely misleading, but not unexpected," SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in a statement. "In anticipation of having to face real competition for the first time, ULA is distorting the facts in an effort to hide its own shortcomings. This is merely the latest example that ULA is realizing that its long-held monopoly is coming to an end."

Keith's note: Then there's this gem: "Bruno said that since ULA's inception, the company "has cut the price of launch in half, and I'm going to cut it in half again." While he declined to provide specific numbers, he vowed to "be competitive with SpaceX's prices."

Hmmm ... with reusable stages SpaceX may do this too - making their cost even harder to beat. At some point Bruno will not be able to turn a profit if he's focused only on cutting prices to chase SpaceX down this path.

Marc's note: Looking at the commercial launch market the last four years, ULA has had 2 launches, both last year for WorldView 3 and NASA's EFT-1. SpaceX on the other hand has had 11 launches and this is before the coming increase in cadence. (All data from the FAA)

SpaceX Launches Dual Payload to GTO [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"A SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the ABS 3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B satellites towards a supersynchronous transfer orbit. The launch took place on time when the launch window opened at 10:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 1, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida."

Marc's note: With this launch SpaceX has completed three launches so far this year. They completed six last year. By mid-year they should have equalled last years total and probably surpassed it based on the current schedule. Their launch cadence is clearly picking up as you would expect with a rocket and company that is maturing.

Russia Will Spin-Off ISS Parts for New Space Station, Discovery News

"The Russian space agency Roscosmos says it will support U.S. plans to keep the International Space Station (ISS) operating through 2024, but then wants to split off three still-to-be launched modules to form a new, independent orbital outpost. The announcement this week by a senior planning board reverses previous statements by Russian officials that Russia would end involvement in the 15-nation program in 2020 when current agreements expire. Despite occasional rhetoric, the Russian-U.S. space marriage has been largely left out of growing economic and political tensions stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last year."

Keith's note: This is not a bad thing. And I am not talking about no longer having to deal with Russia since we'll certainly find a way to find ourselves in a political spat with someone else on Earth after they leave the ISS. Rather, it shows how assets in space can be repurposed, refurbished -- re-imagined. Instead of throwing things away in orbit (Skylab, Salyuts, Mir) we can now build upon these assets and move them around like Lego bricks to form new things as we need them - and then do this again and again. When the government is done with their hardware, it can be used by someone else - just like old military bases can become movie studios and shopping malls. The more orbital capacity that is available, the more customers it can collectively and individually serve. The more valuable these on-orbit assets become for government and non-government uses, the more everyone will want to safeguard that growing capacity (and isolate it from terrestrial squabbles) as has been the case with ISS recently.

New Alliance To Promote Space Development and Settlement Policies, Space News

"Perhaps the most ambitious part of the ASD agenda is a proposed "Cheap Access to Space Act" that would offer $3.5 billion in government prizes for the development of reusable launch vehicles. Those prizes include, in a draft version of the bill provided by ASD, $1 billion to the first fully reusable vehicle that can place at least one metric ton into orbit and fly again a week later."

Keith's note: Yet another space group comprised of the usual suspects. Yet another request by a space group for the government to give them billions in handouts. Sigh. This is getting old. These groups keep proposing the same old same old - under new names each time.

Steve Jurczyk Named Head of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Steve Jurczyk as the agency's Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, effective Monday, March 2. The directorate is responsible for innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use on future NASA missions. Jurczyk has served as Center Director at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, since April of 2014."

Congressional Hearings this Week to Focus on Commercial Space, SpaceRef

"There will be two important congressional hearings this week on Commercial Space.

First up on Tuesday, February 24th is the U.S. Human Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Next up on Friday, February 27th is the House Subcommittee on Space Hearing; The Commercial Crew Program: Challenges and Opportunities chaired by Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The hearing will take place at 2318 Rayburn House Office Building at 9:00 a.m. EST."

Poll: Space Travel in the 21st Century: American Public Sees Benefits But Balks at Cost, Monmouth University

"This week marks the 53rd anniversary of John Glenn's first manned orbital space flight. The Monmouth University Poll finds that most Americans feel the nation's 1960s space program gave us long-lasting benefits and many say increased spending on the space program today would be a good investment. However, less than half the public supports spending billions of dollars specifically to send astronauts back to the moon or to other planets - a program that is currently in the works at NASA. Interestingly, this reluctance is similar to the public mood in the 1960s. A majority of Americans do support private space exploration, though. ... The future of space travel may now lie in private ventures, which most Americans do support."

Keith's note: Interesting how this poll of actual regular American citizens shows them to be far less bubbly in their support of NASA's human space flight programs than what the space advocacy crowd would have you think. I am not certain how well the overt "settlement" aspect of Rick Tumlinson's recent closed space summit is going to resonate with popular sentiments when even the precursor missions are not supported by a majority of those polled. However, the commercial space aspect of this poll is interesting as are the societal benefits. Yet no one from Blue Origin, SpaceX, or Virgin Galactic - or the non-space public seems to have had any role in this closed door meeting. Or did they? I guess we'll never know since nothing about this event's participants is being released.

The study also notes "Just over 4-in-10 (42%) Americans are in favor of the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids, while half (50%) oppose such an expenditure. There are no partisan differences in this opinion, although men (50%) are more supportive than women (36%) of funding this new program." I wonder what the demographics were for Tumlinson's space summit. If this conclave of the usual suspects followed old habits then the participants would have been overwhelmingly male and middle aged (and older).

If people get together with the aim of developing a broad-based policy (on any topic) for the entire country then they should, at a minimum, seek to pay some attention to the demographics of the group of people whom they purport to represent as well as what these people have to say on the topic. Moreover these would-be policy developers should seek to develop a policy that serves the real world interests of the population as a whole - not a policy that only serves the people who happen to be in the room arguing arcane philosophical and self-serving points.

If space advocates have all of the impact that they claim to have had over the past several decades then they need to share the blame for the dysfunctional way that this nation's space policy (such that there is one) has been formulated and implemented. If the space advocates shun responsibility for this train weck then they are admitting that they actually have little or no impact after all. Either way, given how screwed up America's space policy is, one would have to come to the conclusion that space advocates are part of the problem - not the solution.

Orbital explosion probe said to find debris in engine: sources, Reuters

"Last October's explosion of Orbital ATK Inc's Antares rocket may have been triggered when debris inadvertently left in a fuel tank traveled into the booster's main engine, two people familiar with investigations into the accident told Reuters. The sources said the preliminary findings suggest that a simple assembly mistake by Orbital ATK could have caused the explosion, which destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station."

Moon Express Continues Lander Flight Tests Under NASA Lunar CATALYST Program, MoonEx

"Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) has announced that it will continue flight tests at Kennedy Space Center using the newest version of its lunar lander test vehicle later this month. The "MTV-1A" vehicle is an advanced version of the MTV-1X lander test vehicle that successfully completed a series of initial flights in December, earning the company a $1M award from the Google Lunar XPRIZE."



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