Bolden: one challenge of cubesats is they have no propulsion. Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne: we're working on that. #posttransformers— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) May 18, 2016
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"On Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing titled, "Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats." The hearing will examine Mars exploration, specifically efforts to develop deep space habitation capabilities."
"Russia has signed a contract with the United States to deliver six NASA astronauts aboard Russian-made Soyuz MS spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018-2019, according to a quarterly report released by Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation on Monday. Energiya Corporation is the producer of Russian spacecraft. According to the document, NASA will pay Russia 5.7 billion rubles ($88 million) for the delivery of NASA astronauts to the ISS and their return to the Earth. The deal was signed on January 27."
Boeing's first crewed Starliner launch slips to 2018, Ars Technica
"NASA has pinpointed next year as the time when its dependence upon Russia to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station will finally end. However, one of the two companies now slated to provide that service, Boeing, has said it will not be able to launch a crewed mission of its Starliner spacecraft until 2018 at the earliest."
Keith's note: That's $88 million per American astronaut.
"The U.S. Congress tasked the National Research Council with undertaking a comprehensive study of how the SBIR program has stimulated technological innovation and used small businesses to meet federal research and development needs, and with recommending further improvements to the program. In the first round of this study, an ad hoc committee prepared a series of reports from 2004 to 2009 on the SBIR program at the five agencies responsible for 96 percent of the program's operations -- including NASA. In a follow-up to the first round, NASA requested from the Academies an assessment focused on operational questions in order to identify further improvements to the program."
"Yet despite the potentially more cost-effective alternative, taxpayers will be paying the price for ULA's contracts for years to come, POLITICO has found. Estimates show that, through 2030, the cost of the Pentagon's launch program will hit $70 billion - one of the most expensive programs within the Defense Department. And even if ULA is never awarded another government contract, it will continue to collect billions of dollars - including an $800 million annual retainer - as it completes launches that were awarded before Musk's company was allowed to compete. That includes a block buy of 36 launches awarded in 2013. Meanwhile, ULA is under investigation by the Pentagon for possible corrupt bidding practices and is preparing to lay off 25 percent of its workforce. Its long-term viability is in doubt. Even the Pentagon's acquisition chief grants that the creation of ULA - a monopoly criticized by the Federal Trade Commission when it was formed at the government's behest a decade ago - may have been a mistake. "With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that," Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told POLITICO."
A bridge too far: Why Delta rockets aren't the answer, op ed, Tory Bruno, The Hill
"If you believe that competition is good, and if you believe that affordability is paramount, an Atlas bridge is the only answer. The hardworking, innovative men and women of ULA are proud of their support to America's space launch capability. From GPS and missile warning to secure communications and weather prediction, we've launched the satellites the military intelligence community depends on for every mission -- and we've done so with reliability no one can match. We're ready to continue that mission. Please ask Congress to create the smooth transition from Atlas to Vulcan Centaur that will keep America's launch industry healthy for decades to come."
ULA Gets A Russian Christmas Gift From Sen. Shelby, earlier post
"ULA has ordered additional Atlas engines to serve our existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers until a new American-made engine can be developed and certified."
Senator Shelby protects Alabama's role in rocket production, op ed, Huntsville Times
"In Decatur, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) builds the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets which launch our nation's military, NASA, and commercial satellites into space. The ULA plant employs or directly contracts with close to 1,000 Alabamians across north Alabama."
Keith's note: First ULA gets Shelby to side with them over the whole RD-180 thing to save jobs (among other things). Now you have to wonder whether Shelby is going to feel betrayed by ULA now that they want to close down Delta production in Alabama - i.e. JOBS. Then again with the unwieldy legacy arrangements that ULA has in place with DoD that will eventually go away it is probably time for them to do a drastic overhaul of how they do business. ultimately they need to able to compete in an open market on cost and performance - without DoD's finger on the scale.
Senate Armed Services Committee Sticks to Its Guns on RD-180 Rocket Engines, Space Policy Online
"U.S. national space transportation policy requires that at least two independent launch systems be available for national security launches. If one suffers a failure, access to space is assured by the other. For more than a decade, those two have been Atlas V and Delta IV, both ULA rockets. SpaceX argues that now the two can be its Falcon plus ULA's Delta IV. ULA and its supporters insist, however, that the Delta IV is prohibitively expensive compared to Atlas V and the best choice for the taxpayers is to keep Atlas V available until the early 2020s when ULA's new Vulcan rocket -- with a U.S. engine -- will be able to compete with SpaceX on price. SASC insists that a new U.S. engine can be ready by 2019 and only nine more RD-180s are needed until that time. That is the number set by the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee undermined that authorization language in the FY2016 appropriations bill, essentially removing all limits."
"Boeing said Tuesday that it has pushed the date of its first manned space mission back from 2017 to 2018. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which will carry the astronauts, is still under development. SpaceX, led by Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, says it intends to have a manned mission in 2017 using its Dragon space capsule. Unlike the Starliner, Dragon is already built and in use, delivering supplies to the International Space Station with unmanned missions. But it will need to go through further testing before it can carry humans."
"However, if both companies stick to their stated schedules, SpaceX would become the first U.S. commercial venture to send astronauts to the space station and as a result would take possession of a highly prized trophy: a U.S. flag that was left aboard the station by the last space shuttle crew in 2011."
Keith's note: I have lived and worked in the Washington, DC metro area for 30 years. One thing I quickly noticed when I moved here was that big companies and organizations use a large canvas - literally - when they are pushing an issue at Congress. It is not uncommon to see Metro stations near the Pentagon or Capitol Hill transformed by a "take over" ad campaign with every possible surface covered with pictures and words. Then there's op eds like the one ULA's Tory Bruno managed to get placed in The Hill begging Congress to let him kill the Delta rocket. Funny thing: I can remember back in the day when Lockheed Martin and Boeing launched big ad campaigns begging Congress to allow them to form the ULA duopoly because it would save taxpayers money by combining EELV marketing. The appearance of the Internet has done little to dampen the use of traditional media such as newspaper ads.
When I opened up my Washington Post this morning page A5 glared back at me with a full page advertisement from Norwegian Air. Flipping the page, A7 glared at me with a full page counter advertisement from ALPA (larger image). The issue has to do with a certification battle over this airline. OK, it got my attention. I do have to wonder who did the advertisement strategy for Norwegian Air. Their ad trumpets "American crew. American jobs. American planes. That's Norwegian." Right: say "American" three times and it somehow equals "Norwegian". OK, if you say so. Now ULA wants Congress to let them kill one of the two rockets it was so desperate for Congress to let them sell - without competition - because there now is competition. Oh yes and they want to kill the one with American engines and keep the one with Russian engines. Rest assured some equally large advertisements with strange tag lines from Tory Bruno will soon start to stare back from the Washington Post stating that the best "American" rocket is one with "Russian" engines.
Keith's note: NASA wants you to think that everything they do in low Earth orbit these days has some sort of business potential. Alas, while that may be true, NASA is the least likely place to go if you want to find out what they are actually doing. In fact, most of the people dealing with commerce at NASA have no idea what commerce is.
Last week I saw an interesting tweet from @NASA_OSBP - NASA's Office of Small Business Programs saying "#DYK Over 800 #small businesses are contributing to the dev. of the #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA #DreamSmallBiz #NSBW" I replied via @NASAWatch "Interesting @NASA_OSBP can you post that list of companies online? #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA ". A few hours later @NASA_OSBP replied @NASAWatch List is pg 61-71 of new the pub. "SLS: A Case for Small Business" just posted at http://www.osbp.nasa.gov/publications.html". That link led me to the 74 page report "NASA Space Launch System: A Case For Small Business".
The report, published in 2016, is focused on things as they were in FY 2015. While the overall scope of the SLS program as it related to small businesses is discussed, only a few of those small businesses are profiled in any detailed fashion. There is a nice long list of the 800 or so small businesses associated with the SLS program at the end of the document. However, this is only a list in alphabetical order of the companies, their type, and who they subcontract with. Nothing is included about where the companies are located or what they do. Nor is there any sort of econometric information as to the value of each contract or the impact of these contracts on the local communities.
There is another report listed at the page link tweeted by @NASA_OSBP that looks to have been published in 2015 "NASA Deep Space Human Exploration Spacecraft Orion: A Case for Small Business". This report is structured in a nearly identical fashion to the SLS report complete with an alphabetical listing of all of the small businesses. But other than that there's little to explain how or why this is important to the business health of the national economy or to local communities. NASA just wants you to see that they are giving money to lots of small companies that you've never heard of.
There does not seem to be an intent to issue these two reports on an annual basis so as to allow people to understand how the program has adjusted to budgets, overall progress, and the addition or deletion of specific small businesses, or the current estimate of overall economic benefit to the communities where these small companies are located. Instead, NASA spends 6 months editing up and dumbing down last year's data, adding in some boilerplate PR, and then posts the document online. That's it.
"Elon Musk, determined to turn his electric-car company into a great maker of things, said that he keeps a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to Tesla Motors Inc.'s production line in Fremont, California."
Why Elon Musk Sleeps in a Sleeping Bag, Motley Fool
"So I move my desk around to wherever the most important place is for the company, and then I sort of maintain a desk there over time to come and check in on things. But I suspect probably by the end of this quarter most of my time will not be spent on the factory floor."
SpaceX Successfully Launches JCSAT-14 and Recovers Falcon 9 Rocket 1st Stage [With full launch webcast]
"SpaceX completed another successful launch delivering the Japanese JCSAT-14 satellite to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and recovered the Falcon 9 first stage with a night landing at sea."
Keith's note: I sent the following email request to Glenn Delgado, AA for NASA's Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP): "I found this tweet to be very interesting. Can you provide me with a list of the specific 800+ small business companies that are contributing to SLS, where they are located, and what their products/services are in relation to SLS? People often do not appreciate just how pervasive NASA programs are in terms of procurement. Moreover it is often not appreciated how deeply these programs can reach into small communities a great distance from the cities/states where space activities are usually associated."
Keith's update: No response from Glenn Delgado or NASA PAO but this tweet from @NASA_OSBP just appeared. Impressive report (download). Too bad NASA PAO hasn't issued a press release about it. Oddly the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a pro-SLS/Orion lobbying group, has made no mention at all about it.
Reaching for the Stars by Paying for Results, Huffington post
"With all discretionary spending under pressure, a new paradigm will be required to ensure NASA's future is as bright as its heritage. Funding research at higher levels will call for development of a revenue base to augment the agency's general fund allocations. A robust space economy where private firms support government infrastructure, services and research in space via user fees can make that a reality. A revenue positive future is something that Congress and any administration should embrace."
"The economic vitality of the American space industry is best served with a clear and predictable oversight process that ensures access to space and imposes minimal burdens on the industry. The Administration supports a narrowly tailored authorization process for newly contemplated commercial space activities, with only such conditions as are necessary for compliance with the United States' international obligations, foreign policy and national security interests, and protection of United States Government uses of outer space. Through months of consultations among Federal departments and agencies and with the commercial space industry, this Office developed a legislative proposal for a "Mission Authorization" framework, which is appended to this report."
Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.
My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.
As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.
"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."
With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool
"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."
Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."
"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."
"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."
Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.
"The House Armed Services Committee voted Thursday morning to double the allowed purchase of Russian-made rocket engines from nine to 18, despite a desire to develop an American-made alternative. The committee adopted the amendment, by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), by voice vote, after vigorous debate that did not fall along party lines. The Air Force relies on United Launch Alliance -- a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture -- for its sensitive national security space launches, which uses a launch vehicle reliant on the RD-180 engines."
ULA rival SpaceX awarded its 1st Air Force satellite launch contract, Bizjournals.com
"ULA has since tried to lower its launch costs, shedding workers and re-engineering its processes to be able offer launches below $100 million. The 3,700-employee company is offering early retirement and employee buyouts this year and in 2017 in an effort to trim down to about 3,000 employees at its five locations nationwide."
"SpaceX announced today that it is going to start sending specially modified Dragon spacecraft aka "Red Dragon" to Mars as early as 2018. The purpose of these missions is to demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016. With this announcement SpaceX has upped the ante for the human exploration of Mars by beginning technology pathfinder missions a decade or more before NASA plans to do so."
"When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to "accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere." This is exactly what's happening and it's one of the reasons that we're closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before."
"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."
Keith's note: Oddly, just yesterday, NASA Administrator Bolden referred to Falcon 9 as "old technology" when asked why NASA was building SLS. Well, SLS, using decades-old technology, was created to send humans on NASA's #JourneyToMars. Yet those NASA missions won't start sending hardware to Mars until the late 2020s / early 2030s. Meanwhile SpaceX, with its "old technology" will beat NASA by a decade or more when it starts landing Red Dragons on Mars.
- Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days, earlier post
Keith's note: I am not sure what to make of this comment by Charlie Bolden. Either he is very confused or someone is giving him really stupid talking points. Let's see, where do I start: how "old" is SLS technology? The Solid Rocket Boosters SLS uses are stretched and improved versions of the same design that Space Shuttles flew beginning in 1981 - but were designed in the 1970s (source). Oh, and SLS uses re-flown Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) which were also designed in the 1970s (source). And, FWIW Bolden flew these vehicles multiple times in the 80s.
SpaceX vehicles and engines were designed in the 21st century, use advanced manufacturing technology and require an ever-shrinking number of people to launch. Instead of re-using the reusable SSMEs on SLS, NASA will throw them away whereas SpaceX can use their first stages over and over and over again - after they wash the soot off the rocket, that is.
Board member: why is NASA developing SLS when SpaceX has heavy-lift plans? Boldne counters that SpaceX's Falcon 9 uses "old technology."— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) April 26, 2016
"I am truly honored and thrilled to be leading a team of industry veterans on such an important and pivotal space startup. We see innovation and value creation being the strongest in the Micro Satellite sector and Vector Space Systems will create a development platform that will foster this innovation and bring the reality of space to a much larger pool of entrepreneurs who don't need to be space experts. I am likewise honored to have such an influential group of seed investors who will bring much needed Silicon Valley DNA to the space business and will deeply influence our business, sales, marketing and product development strategies," said CEO Jim Cantrell
Marc's note: Of note, Vector announced today it has received its first rounding of funding, $1M from angel investors who weren't disclosed. Competition comparisons include Rocket Labs and FireFly, though Vector says their launch vehicle is cheaper starting at $2M with their primary market being under 50kg. There's definitely a need for a dedicated microsatellite launcher. Launch sites they plan to use include Kodiak and Cape Canaveral. Yet another potential customer for KSC.
"A primary argument of the launch companies is that lifting the ban on the PSLV will enable vehicles subsidized by foreign governments to compete against American industry. The Antrix Corporation is mainly an administrative agent of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India's national space agency. ISRO provides the technical operations supporting Antrix's commercial launches. The PSLV was developed as an ISRO program, and the profits made off commercial launch feeds back into India's space budget. This does constitute government subsidy of the Indian launch market; in contrast, the American companies developing small launch vehicles have done so largely through private investment, with NASA purchasing their services through fixed-price contracts. Of course, those issuing counter-arguments to the preservation of the ban note that the United States does not hold such bans against the use of equivalent and similarly-subsidized Russian, European, or Japanese launch vehicles, such as the Dnepr, Vega, and Epsilon. According to the FAA Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation, the Dnepr is a medium-class vehicle used for multimanifested launches of small satellites at prices of around $29 million. The Epsilon is specifically suited for small payloads at launch prices starting at $39 million. The Vega is a small-class vehicle launching at prices also of $39 million."
"The proposed restrictions essentially would forbid the Air Force from funding several recently announced co-investment deals with Orbital ATK, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance beyond this year. The Air Force doled out $317 million worth of contracts to help fund Orbital ATK's development of a new solid-fueled launcher, SpaceX's development a new upper-stage engine, and ULA's development of Vulcan, a potentially reusable successor to the RD-180 powered Atlas 5 rocket."
"Dan Gouré is vice president of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va-based think tank that receives money from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ... Let's tally up the Air Force's recent moves. First, it insists it must depend on Russian rocket engines for at least another six years. Then it wants to take the high risk approach of launching important national security payloads aboard either the SpaceX system that has never been tried in such a mode or a new launch vehicle using a novel propulsion system. Finally, it wants to devastate what little remains of the U.S. rocket motor industrial base by selling off its stash of surplus Minuteman boosters."
"I think the concern about using Indian boosters is not so much the transfer of sensitive technology to a nation that is a fellow democracy, but rather whether the Indian launches are subsidised by the government to a degree that other market actors would be priced out of the market," Elliot Holokauahi Pulham, CEO of Space Foundation, said. Testifying before a Congressional committee, Mr Pulham said there has been some discussion about allowing US built satellites to fly on boosters such as the Indian PSLV. Eric Stallmer, president Commercial Spaceflight Federation, opposed efforts to facilitate a government-subsidised foreign launch company. "In this case, India, to compete with US companies. Such policy runs counter to many national priorities and undermines the work and investment that has been made by the government and industry to ensure the health of the US commercial space launch industrial base," Mr Stallmer said."
Keith's note: This is all rather odd and self-serving. Both Space Foundation and Commercial Spaceflight Federation depend on commercial space company membership dues. On one hand it is wrong to allow U.S. commercial payloads to be launched by India because their rockets have large government subsidies. Yet Space Foundation and CSF think that it is just fine to launch these same U.S. commercial payloads on Chinese, Russian, and European launch vehicles - all of which get substantial government subsidies. Meanwhile ULA has been getting billions a year for decades in U.S. government subsidies to keep both EELV fleets afloat (with no competition until recently) - and they will now get more money to wean themselves from RD-180 engines whose use was mandated by the U.S. government. Again, where you stand depends on where you sit.
Space companies feud over what to do with rockets in ICBM stockpile, Washington Post
"Orbital ATK wants to unearth the dormant missiles and repurpose them to launch commercial satellites into orbit. Russia has released its Soviet-era ICBMs into the commercial market, the company argues, so the Pentagon should be allowed to sell its unused ICBMs as well. But to do that, Congress would have to ease a 20-year-old restriction that prohibits the sale of the missile motors for commercial use. And that has touched off a rancorous battle that has extended from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, where Congress is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue Tuesday."
Subcommittee Examines Commercial Satellite Industry, Policy Challenges, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
"Those in favor of allowing excess ICBMs to be used for commercial launch services argue that many U.S. small satellites have launched on Russian DNEPR vehicles, derived from Russian ICBMs, and that by modifying existing U.S. policy, U.S. launch services could compete with Russia and bring this business back to America. Those in favor also argue that there is a cost to the taxpayer associated with storing excess ICBMs. By allowing the U.S. commercial launch industry to use excess ICBMs, you not only lower the tax burden, but also create potential revenue derived from the sale of these motors. However, those that oppose the policy change raise legitimate concerns that allowing excess ICBMs to be used for commercial launch purposes could distort the market in the United States, undermine future investment, and delay innovations that are on the horizon."
- Subcommittee Discusses Small Satellites, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
- Hearing Charter
- Hearing: Small Satellite Opportunities and Challenges
- Elliot Pulham, Space Foundation Testimony
- Eric Stallmer, Commercial Spaceflight Federation Testimony
- More Solid Rocket Food Fights, earlier post
- Why Not Use Old Missiles To Launch New Satellites?, earlier post
"Contrary to the estimates you provided to me in private, I am left to conclude that your decision to publicly cite a figure as high as $5 billion was done so to obfuscate efforts to responsibly transition off of the RD-180 before the end of the decade," writes Chairman McCain. "I invite you to clarify the record in the context of proposals actually being considered by the committee While you chose to selectively omit the [Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE)] assessment in your response, we have since been briefed by the CAPE and have been provided with compelling analysis demonstrating cost implications that are starkly different from what you stated in your testimony. In fact, according to CAPE, the cost of meeting assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines could be similar to what we pay today."
"There are two other means by which SpaceX poses an imminent threat to Roscosmos. The first is the impact it is having on United Launch Alliance (ULA), the immediate U.S. competitor to SpaceX. ULA currently buys Russian-made engines for its Atlas V rocket, but SpaceX's success may cause it to rethink. Without sales to ULA, Roscosmos' engine-making subsidiary, Energomash, will lose its main customer. An even greater impact is expected when SpaceX begins flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the next two to three years. Since the U.S. space shuttles were retired in 2011, Roscosmos charged NASA $70 million for each seat. Musk promises to undercut that significantly, charging around $20 million on his "Dragon" spacecraft. Considering that Roscosmos is expecting an annual budget of $2 billion over the next decade, the loss of an $500 million annual subsidy is significant."
"United Launch Alliance plans to cut up to 875 jobs, or about one-quarter of its workforce, before the end of 2017 to better compete against rivals bankrolled by billionaire entrepreneurs including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, ULA's chief executive said on Thursday. ULA, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, expects a first round of 375 job cuts to be accomplished this year, mostly through voluntary layoffs. In an interview with Reuters, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said another 400 to 500 employees would be cut by the end of 2017. "We're in the process of transforming our company," Bruno said."
Commercial Competition Finding Way Onto ISS, Aviation Week
"Made In Space has booked the first six months of that capability, counting among its customers aerospace companies that want to use the 3D printing technology it offers to build subscale satellite structures optimized for microgravity, as well as tools and other objects that may be used in space. Engineering schools have also bought time on the device, and Made In Space plans to use it for its own experiments under a $20 million NASA technology development award. Rush said a typical run in the AMF will cost a customer $10,000-$20,000, with the selling point being a capability to manufacture structures and other objects that don't need to be rugged enough to survive the g-forces and other loads associated with space launch. That could enable "gossamer" spacecraft components that could not be built on the ground. The company will use the AMF capability to develop subscale test structures for the "Archinaut" advanced manufacturing and assembly hardware it is developing for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate under a two-year, $20 million "Tipping Point Technology" contract awarded last fall."
"It's not clear how long this happy relationship between SpaceX and NASA will last. The company may fly its Falcon Heavy rocket late this year or in 2017, and although it doesn't have quite the payload capacity that NASA's under-development Space Launch System does, it will cost far less to fly. The next president, or some in Congress, may begin asking why NASA is spending billions to develop its own heavy-lift rocket when SpaceX already has one. But on Friday night it was all good. Across NASA's field centers, in cubicles, offices, and coffee rooms, the engineers working on various projects were watching. As one young flight controller from Johnson Space Center told me about her experience, "There were about 20 people crowded around my screen, and we were all going nuts." Elon Musk hasn't forgotten NASA, either. The first thing he did during Friday's news conference was to thank the space agency that had made it all possible."
Groundbreaking Epigenetics Research to be Conducted on International Space Station, Zymo Research Corporation
"Zymo Research Corporation is taking epigenetics research to the next level outer space. DNA, that was bisulfite converted using the EZ DNA Methylation-Lightning Kit manufactured by Zymo Research Corporation, will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS), as part of the inaugural "Genes in Space" challenge. The contest invites young scientists to design a DNA experiment that uses PCR to test their scientific hypothesis."
Keith's update: This is a really cool project that taps the unique research capabilities of the ISS as well as stimulates students to pursue a career in science. I hope this is just the beginning and that there will be more payloads like this. But there is no mention in this press release of CASIS who underwrites experiments like these to the tune of $7.5 million - or of NASA who pays all of CASIS' bills. It is somewhat odd that CASIS has not made certain that they - and NASA - get some credit for underwriting things like this.
SpaceX Lands On A Barge in the Ocean While A Dragon Flies To Orbit (images and video)
"SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 this afternoon. The rocket's first stage returned from space and landed on an automated drone ship offshore a few minutes later. Meanwhile, the second stage successfully placed a Dragon spacecraft into orbit. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is delivering almost 7,000 pounds of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to the orbital laboratory following its launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida."
Keith's update: At a NASA press conference on Thursday a senior representative from CASIS refused to provide basic cost numbers for the space station payloads it funds. Yet last week another senior CASIS representative volunteered specific ISS payload cost information. Why is CASIS leadership so confused about the basic services that it provides?
The press conference was about the science payloads on the upcoming CRS-8 SpaceX flight, Ken Shields, CASIS' Director of Operations (on the right) appeared with 3 employees from Eli Lilly (in lab coats). Shields was asked what the costs associated with the CASIS-sponsored payloads aboard CRS-8 provided by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly are. Shields declined to provide specifics other than to say that CASIS supports these payloads. When pressed again for a dollar amount, Shields again declined to provide a clear answer as to the cost borne by CASIS or NASA and punted to Lilly who then declined to say how much money they had put into this research. NASA PAO did not inform off-site media in advance that there was a dial-in number for this press event, so I tried using the #askNASA option via Twitter (which of course was ignored).
AIA Talking Points: Commercial Space Competitiveness Strategy for the 21st Century, Aerospace Industries Association
"To compete effectively in this promising new market domain, our nation needs a 21st Century Commercial Space Competitiveness Strategy to ensure the U.S. is the commercial space leader for the next century. The U.S. will ensure its position as the first-choice provider of space-related goods and services by creating the conditions necessary to compete in the global commercial space marketplace and lead in areas like technology development, workforce training, exports, and innovation. Elements of a 21st Century Commercial Space Competitiveness Strategy."
Keith's note: If you read through this AIA document you'll see that this "strategy" calls for the U.S. "to compete effectively" and that our government needs to create "the conditions necessary to compete in the global commercial space marketplace." No kidding. This broad issue has been addressed for years as a result of multiple national space policies, national space transportation policies, and commercial space legislation. Its election time, so the various trade groups start to wave their arms in the air and proclaim that a strategy is needed to avert some dire situation. What is really needed is for people and companies to work within the various polices and legislative frameworks that already exist. But again its election year, so its more important to cite scary problems than to actually work to fix them since, well, doing things is harder than talking about them.
"Orbital ATK is pressing U.S. lawmakers to end a 20-year ban on using decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for launching commercial satellites and the effort has raised concern among companies that have invested millions of dollars in potential rival rockets. Orbital Vice President Barron Beneski said in an interview on Friday that the company was pushing Washington to get the ban lifted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that sets defense policy for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1. The missiles were idled by nuclear disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia in the 1990s. Virgin Galactic and other space startups said in interviews last week they worry that lifting the ban would give Orbital an unfair competitive advantage if it was allowed to use surplus government rocket motors in its commercial launch vehicles."
Keith's note: I know some companies are going to whine and complain about this. But why not use existing hardware that would otherwise be destroyed or left outside to rot - especially when it has already been paid for and now costs a lot of money to store? Every company that whines and complains has its own swarm of lobbyists trying to seek some advantage for the home team. The only caveat I would offer is that since the U.S. government paid for these rockets that they be offered - at the same cost - to any launch provider that wants to buy them. That not only levels the playing field but offers some of these start-ups a chance to jump ahead in terms of experience and capability. Of course this suggestion would simply change who is whining.
Dumping excess boosters on market would short-circuit commercial space renaissance, Op Ed, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic
"Converting ICBM's to launchers was a bad idea when it was brought up the last three times, and it's an even worse idea now. Two decades of consistent, bipartisan space policy have sparked billions in private investment in a robust domestic commercial space industry. The current Space Transportation Policy, released by the White House in 2013, commits the government to "encouraging ... a viable ... and competitive U.S. commercial space transportation industry" while avoiding actions that might "discourage, or compete with U.S. commercial space transportation companies."
Keith's update: Let the whining begin. How much tax money was poured into Spaceport America so as to give Virgin Galactic a dirt cheap place to operate? And then there's the deal XCOR got in Texas, ULA's subsidies, etc. What is ironic about all of this is that Orbital used to complain about this idea when it thought that used ICBMs would allow other companies to compete with Taurus and Pegasus. When it comes to special favors and commercial space, where you stand depends on where you sit (or launch).
Keith's note: It is time to examine how NASA and CASIS have interacted since 2011. Little, if anything, has ever been publicly released with regard to how CASIS reports its progress to NASA or how NASA measures or responds to CASIS about their performance. The OIG and GAO have mentioned this matter in prior reports. Last week the NASA Advisory Council spent a lot of time trying (with little success) to figure out what CASIS does. So I just submitted a FOIA request.
Keith's update: Despite my voluminous FOIA request, NASA once again does not accept my claim to be news media even though they themselves granted me news media accreditation 16 years ago. See "NASA Refuses To Accept Its Own News Media Accreditation"
This FOIA request is long due to the fact that the last time I submitted a FOIA request in late 2015 NASA decided that I had to prove that I was a member of the news media after more than 15 years of being credentialed by NASA PAO and after having submitted multiple FOIA requests which were processed without incident for more than a decade. Indeed, some of my simple emails to PAO requesting information from NASA were converted into FOIA requests and then promptly processed as such without me even asking that they be considered as FOIA requests. The following is the full text of my FOIA request (click on the link below to read it all):
I am requesting the full text of NASA cooperative agreement NNH11CD70A between NASA and CASIS including any revisions, annexes, modifications, or associated contractual amendments made by NASA from the inception of this agreement with CASIS until the date of this FOIA request.
I am also requesting all progress and status reports and memos provided by CASIS to NASA from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request as well as all correspondence/memos from NASA to CASIS in response to CASIS progress and status reports from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request.
"NASA's infamous "Vomit Comet" zero gravity airplane briefly served as a delivery plane for the Navy and a private company owned by an ex astronaut, which some of the plane's crew members who filed formal complaints felt was a misuse of the craft, according to documents obtained by Motherboard. ... In the first instance, NASA officials pressured the crew to transport a giant wooden engine from Houston to Costa Rica as a favor to a former astronaut, according to two of the crew members. Although the mission was successful, NASA seemed to deliberately avoid publicizing the flight. On another occasion that year, the crew was asked to deliver Navy cargo to Greenland even though members of the crew said the trip was unsafe, resulting in a "near fatal crash," according to documents from a NASA Inspector General investigation. Despite conducting an investigation, the agency says it never reviewed a video that was taken of the incident, and never contacted one of the crew members who was deemed the "principal witness."
Keith's note: CASIS (Center for Advancement of Science in Space, Inc.) came to Washington this past week to talk about their management of science and commercial activity aboard the International Space Station National Laboratory. The first stop for CASIS was an event at the National Academy of Sciences on low Earth orbit commerce on Wednesday. The presentation that CASIS gave was their standard Powerpoint chart collection totally lacking in any meaningful information other than what you'd expect to see in a brochure.
As it always does, the presentation glossed over some important facts yet contained some outright inaccuracies about funding that CASIS avoided discussing. Since the Academy audience - as well as most of the other audiences that CASIS presents to - was not inclined to ask probing questions, CASIS sailed through their presentation and then sat down.
The next day the CASIS entourage, led by President and Executive Director Greg Johnson, showed up at the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting. Things did not go so well for them at the NAC. Within minutes of starting to talk, NAC members started to pepper Johnson with questions- questions that he was unable and/or unwilling to answer. It went downhill from there.
The CASIS presentation to the NAC did not provide the basic answers that the NAC membership sought. Committee members repeatedly asked CASIS' Johnson what the CASIS budget was, where it came from, and how much money CASIS had raised. You could hear the growing frustration in the voices of the NAC members the more that CASIS dodged their questions. Eventually CASIS' Johnson admitted that their budget was $15 million a year and that it all comes from NASA. When probed about fundraising that they had been so overt about in their presentation charts, Johnson eventually admitted that philanthropy had not worked for CASIS (in other words simply asking for money was not working). Johnson, with help from David Roberts, their lead scientist, then immediately started to crow again about all the money that CASIS had raised. This contradicted their prior statements. Further questioning eventually got Johnson and Roberts to admit that the money that they raised did not go to CASIS but rather, that funds from a sponsoring company went directly to the payload developer (which is not a bad thing).
CASIS' repeated refusal to speak clearly on the topic of its income, funding, grants, and operations became problematical for the NAC. When pressed further on their income CASIS said that they were not allowed to generate "revenue" (even though their IRS returns clearly show that they did generate revenue albeit only a little). When the NAC members asked for more details on what CASIS was funding CASIS emphatically stated that they are not a "funding" organization. Moments later CASIS staff showed slides that talked about funding.
NASA Advisory Council Meeting (dial in info, etc.)
"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Public Law 92-463, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council. DATES: Thursday, March 31, 2016, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; and Friday, April 1, 2016, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Local Time."
CASIS Is Not The Best Way To Use a Space Station, earlier post
"NASA has made explicit reference to the need to encourage the development of a robust Low Earth Orbit (LEO) commercial infrastructure to evolve so as to allow the agency to redirect its efforts (budget) toward cis-lunar space. When asked what happens if that LEO commercial activity does not appear in a significant fashion to reduce NASA's LEO costs, NASA says that it will have to reassess its cis-lunar plans. CASIS is poised as the cusp of that nascent LEO commercial infrastructure. Indeed, one might argue, that's a big part of their assigned task - their prime reason for existing. NASA is talking about doing stuff in cis-lunar space in a few years. If CASIS is the spark for the whole LEO commerce thing then someone needs to replace their spark plug - now."
Keith's note: CASIS is among the topics to be discussed. WRT the tweets below, there's a #JourneyToMars drinking game underway.
Keith's note: The National Academy of Sciences held a "Full-Day Mini Symposium: NASA Intentions for Commercial LEO" on Wednesday. Below are some Tweets regarding the opening session with Sam Scimemi. Among other things we learned that the 2024 ISS retirement date for NASA is, well, not a retirement date after all. Something different will happen. What? No one knows. P.S. sorry for the typos: the tweets were done rapid fire in real time.
"Although NASA's overall performance has improved, for 8 out of the last 9 years at least one major project has experienced significant cost or schedule growth. Such growth often occurs as projects prepare to begin system assembly, integration, and test; nine projects will be in that phase of development in 2016, including the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System, which are human spaceflight programs that have significant development risks."
Keith's note: On Saturday a Cygnus cargo vehicle arrived at the International Space Station (ISS). On board: a variety of experiments. Some of the experiments made it to the ISS via CASIS - a non-profit organization that relies on NASA for 99.9%+ of its income.
Yet if you look at the press release issued to news media by CASIS about Cygnus' arrival, there is no mention whatsoever of "NASA" - even though NASA paid for Cygnus - and all of CASIS' payloads on board.
Last Fall I posted a series of articles that looked into how CASIS operates. I am told that this exercise caused some consternation within CASIS and, to some extent, within NASA as well. I was also told that changes were being made at CASIS - by CASIS staff themselves. So I thought I'd wait a bit and see if anything started to change. It has been 6 months since I started posting this series. I detect no change in CASIS whatsoever. They are as oblivious to their long-standing problems - and equally as clueless as to the need to change - as they were last year.
CASIS is making a presentation at a National Academy of Sciences event on Wednesday and at a NASA Advisory Council meeting on Thursday. Since they're going to be explaining themselves to several influential audiences here in Washington, let's pick up where I left off - starting with a recap.
"In less than 10 years from now, SpaceX may or may not beat NASA in the race to Mars. Astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium director, and host of the National Geographic Channel's StarTalk Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is placing his bet on "not." "The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen..." Tyson said in an interview with The Verge. Tyson laid out his arguments for why fans of a solo SpaceX trip to Mars suffer from a "delusion."
Keith's note: Once again Neil Tyson demonstrates that he has never run a multi-billion dollar business - nor has he ever been really, really, really rich. These non-trivial resources allow an individual to shift their own paradigms to suit their whims independent of usual norms. In Musk's case - that whim is the exploration of Mars. Deal with it Neil.
Keith's note: According to KSC Daily News for Thursday, March 24, 2016 it looks like you now need formal (that usually means written) permission from some unidentified "appropriate approval authority" at CCAFS to take pictures of "commercial launch sites, launch vehicles and equipment". So that apparently means not only are people onsite at a launch are forbidden to take pictures without the aforementioned but unspecified permission from the "appropriate approval authority" - but so are people who visit the CCAFS museum, on KSC bus tours - or standing on a causeway within the area watching a launch. Let me know when the rules get crazier.
"SAFETY, SECURITY, CLOSURES AND OUTAGES
Photography Strictly Prohibited on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
As a reminder to all KSC employees and guests, photography is strictly prohibited on all areas of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In accordance with the 45th Space Wing Integrated Defense Plan, it is a crime, under 18 U.S.C., section 795, to photograph defense installations without first obtaining permission from the installation commander. The taking of photos or videos of personnel displaying CCAFS entry badges, security posts, on-duty security personnel, security response activity or shift change also is strictly prohibited. Additionally, photography or videography of USAF restricted or controlled areas, and commercial launch sites, launch vehicles and equipment is prohibited without prior written approval from the appropriate approval authority. POC: Bill Cannon, 321-853-7874"
New funding matchmaker will cater to NIH rejects, Science Magazine
"Last year, U.S. researchers received about 42,500 pieces of bad news from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their grant proposal had been rejected; they wouldn't be receiving a piece of the agency's roughly $30 billion federal funding pie. For many, the next step is to cast around for slices of smaller piesgrants from nonprofit disease foundations or investments from private companies that might keep their projects alive. Now, a new program aims to play matchmaker between these researchers and second-chance funders. The Online Partnership to Accelerate Research (OnPAR), a collaboration between NIH and the defense, engineering, and health contractor Leidos, lets researchers upload rejected NIH proposals to an online portal where potential funders can review the scores received from reviewers, and decide whether to put up cash."
"His goal is to help facilitate a more interdisciplinary approach by giving scientists with out-of-the-box ideas the equipment, staff and connections to counterparts in math, engineering, physical sciences and computer science -- so their work can reach its full potential, he explained."
Keith's note: This is the guy behind XPrize, Planetary Resources, Stratolaunch, etc.
NIH is getting creative - so is Paul Allen. Why can't NASA do something like this? Perhaps this concept would not do much for multi-hundred million science mission proposals, but smaller things such as aerospace technology, life science, and material science research proposals might benefit. Not everything NASA turns down is bad. A lot of it is just fine, but the agency doesn't have the money - or the foresight to think outside of their traditional sandbox. CASIS is supposed to be doing something like this. Usually all they do is give away free (or allow reduced pricing) on rides to space and they do so with funding that is 99.997% from NASA.
Every now and then CASIS does find a biotech company that agrees to underwrite a portion of some research - but the details are fuzzy as to what this really means when its time to write a check. CASIS does not like to get into specifics in this regard. Although I do have to say that the one bright light that is happening via CASIS is Nanoracks. They have exhibited non-stop creativity and efficiency in all that they do. But CASIS has yet to repeat this example.
NASA is very binary on the matter of funding and picking winners - either you get funded or you don't. Or you can reapply until you get funded or just give up. It would be nice if the agency thought of ways to pool these proposals and match them with other potential funders. NASA employees (who have limited or zero private sector experience) regularly toss phrases around wherein they claim to want to bring "the entire economic sector" up to LEO. Well, they won't see that happen if they are the only funding source in LEO. Nor will this happen unless they do a lot more to actually remove hindrances and energetically facilitate access to LEO commercial funding by actual commercial entities - not just from a congressional creation (CASIS) which cloaks itself in a 501(c)(3) designation so as to launder NASA money.
By the way, you can listen to the NASA ISS National Laboratory/CASIS imaginary plan for LEO commercialization next Wednesday at a day-long symposium "Research in Commercial LEO" at the NAS Space Studies Board Space Science Week.
"Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week referred the matter to the Pentagon's independent watchdog agency following strong statements by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain."
"At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the OIG DoD has opened an investigation regarding assertions made by United Launch Alliance's former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations," wrote Randolph R. Stone, the deputy inspector general for policy and oversight at the Defense Department, in a memorandum today. Stone said the investigation would include "site visits, interviews, and documentation review."
- ULA VP Quits Over Controversial Remarks, earlier post
"The launch marks the beginning of the company's fifth operational cargo resupply mission (OA-6) for NASA, and the first Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments onboard the spacecraft. Cygnus will deliver vital equipment, supplies and experiments to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of its Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract with NASA."
"The Arizona Republican opened a Thursday SASC appearance by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford by calling on the Pentagon to investigate Tobey's "disturbing statements." The request is the latest salvo in McCain's political battle to wean the US off of the Russian rocket engines supplied by ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. "These statements raised troubling questions about the nature of the relationship between the Department of Defense and ULA," said McCain, R-Ariz."
"A senior United Launch Alliance executive resigned on Wednesday after saying the firm last year refused to bid on a launch service contract for the U.S. military's next-generation GPS satellite because it was hoping to avoid a "cost shootout" with Elon Musk's SpaceX."
"Don't get me wrong: SpaceX has done some amazing stuff," [ULA vice president of engineering. Brett] Tobey said. "The landing [in December] of that [Falcon 9] first stage at the Cape was nothing short of amazing. My wife and I were at Best Buy and watching it on my iPhone and I just got goose bumps. It was cool. "Watching them smash it into the barge was fun, too," he said of previous, and a subsequent, SpaceX attempts at landing the first stage. "It's getting tons of press. It's extraordinarily, engineeringly cool but it's dumb," Tobey said. "I mean: Really? You carried 100,000 pounds of fuel after deployment of the SES satellite [SpaceX's March launch of the commercial SES-9 telecommunications satellite, to geostationary-transfer orbit] just to try to land on the barge."
Keith's 16 March note: Gee, this ULA guy is dense. How much did that extra propellant cost? Pennies. What will it eventually allow SpaceX to do? Bring back and reuse rocket hardware that costs millions to produce. That means that you can sell the use of the same rocket more than once. This common business approach seems to elude Mr. Tobey. Then again ULA has been paid to be inefficient for decades, so this sort of thinking must be somewhat alien to them. Then there's way he refers to ULA's business partners. It would seem that ULA does not agree with what its own vice president has been saying. Tick tock.
"Compare it to having two fiances, two possible brides," Tobey said of ULA's relationship with the two companies during a talk at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "Blue Origin is a super-rich girl, and then there is this poor girl over here, Aerojet Rocketdyne. But we have to continue to go to planned rehearsal dinners, buy cakes, and all the rest with both."
"At NASA's booth, hundreds of people in the last few days have viewed the agency's VR pieces on an Oculus Rift. The three-dimensional video has been virtually taking them on a ride to the top of the SLS, which will be more than 300 feet tall when completed. Also, NASA has Google Cardboard sets for people who want to see a VR clip that features footage from Mars. It's NASA's third straight year at the tech festival, but it's the first time the company is leveraging virtual reality. The response to the films, Pierce said, "has been great."
"Just typing about that facet of the demo is making me nearly tear up. I can barely handle the thought that today, I was closer to outer space than I'd ever been in my life. Even with issues like a missing real-time shadow/lighting system and some nausea from driving up and down virtual hills, I was absolutely blown away by the experience - and the same could be said for the ISS simulator, whose texture quality was the pits and whose simulation could have used more ISS-specific hardware inside of it."
Keith's note: OK, so where do the rest of us who are not partying with the hipsters and digerati at SXSW download/view this stuff? NASA talks about their use of Occulus Rift, Kinect, Hololens, etc. but why isn't any of this stuff being released for people to experience - everywhere?
"The camera in your cell phone we invented that," [NASA Technology Transfer Program Executive David] Lockney said. "It's a lightweight, high resolution camera, doesn't draw a lot of power, we used it for space applications on a satellite. That same exact camera on a chip, is the same is the same exact camera that you have in your cell phone today."
Keith's note: This is a rather interesting claim that Lockney is making (assuming that he was quoted correctly). So I sent a request to him and PAO: "Can you tell me, specifically, where/when NASA invented this camera? What mission did it first fly on? Did NASA or a contractor file a patent claim for this camera technology? If so what is the patent number? Did NASA sign a technology transfer agreement or license with a company - if so what is the company's name and when was this agreement signed? Does NASA still own any intellectual property associated with this camera technology?"
Keith's update: I got a quick answer back from Lockney: the guy who invented the technology was Eric Fossum. "While Fossum was at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invoked a plan of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" for NASA Space Science missions. One of the instrument goals was to miniaturize charge-coupled device (CCD) camera systems onboard interplanetary spacecraft. In response, Fossum invented a new CMOS active pixel sensor (APS) with intra-pixel charge transfer camera-on-a-chip technology, now just called the CMOS Image Sensor or CIS ..." I learned something new today.
Alas, NASA paid for the work (NASA pays Caltech to operate JPL) but does not actually own the technology - and it never did so ... I may be splitting hairs but its a little hard to say that NASA invented something when it never even owned it to begin with. Too bad it did not try and hang onto what taxpayers paid for - think of the royalties NASA could have reaped from something that is used in a zillion cellphones. See patents 5471515
"The coalition lays out several policy proposals, which, if adopted, will help sustain U.S. leadership in space. Among them are: committing to predictable budgets, funding robust investments, promoting innovative partnerships, and repealing the Budget Control Act of 2011; continuing global space engagement through programs like the International Space Station; fully funding the Space Launch System, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and the Commercial Crew programs; providing increased resources for national security space and launch programs; promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; retaining U.S.-educated workers; and further reducing barriers to international trade."
"Members of the coalition include the Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace States Association, American Astronautical Society, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, Colorado Space Coalition, Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Satellite Industry Association, Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, Space Angels Network, Space Florida, Space Foundation, and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space."
Marc's note: By creating this white paper this broad coalition is making a statement that will be read as it's shared among politicians and their staff of every stripe. However, during the press conference Elliot Pulham of the Space Foundation said that to some extent, he doesn't want space to be a campaign issue in case a candidate says something stupid. Considering what's already been said on the campaign trail, a candidate saying something stupid on any topic would be the norm. But, and more importantly, if the coalition wants traction, then making the case and speaking about the importance of the space economy should be discussed at every political level and by the candidates.
"The last time Ron Garan saw the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space was from his vantage point aboard the International Space Station. The next time he will see this sight will be from inside the capsule of World Views' high altitude balloon at the edge of space. Unlike both of his trips to and from space he will be in command of the capsule which will land under a large, steerable parawing. He'll be doing the steering. And when he does he'll be the first person to ever pilot such a flight."
"A coalition of 13 space organizations will release its white paper, "Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space." White paper to call attention to the need for the next administration and Congress to make space exploration and use a policy priority. White paper will propose solutions to four challenges facing the U.S. space exploration and use enterprise: unpredictable budgeting, foreign competition, the hostile space environment, and workforce trends."
Air Force Awards Final Rocket Propulsion System Prototype OTAs, Space and Missile Systems Center
"Today the Space and Missile Systems Center awarded the final Other Transaction Agreements for shared public-private investments in Rocket Propulsion System prototypes. One award is to Aerojet Rocketdyne for development of the AR1 rocket propulsion system. The initial government investment is $115.3 million. The other award is to United Launch Alliance for development of the Vulcan/BE-4 rocket propulsion system and the ACES rocket propulsion system. The initial government investment is $46.6 million with $45.8 million for the Vulcan/BE-4 effort and $0.8 million for the ACES effort."
Aerojet Rocketdyne, ULA Announce Public-Private Partnership with USAF to Develop RD-180 Replacement Engine
"The U.S. Air Force selected Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc., and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to share in a public-private partnership to develop jointly the AR1 engine an American-made rocket propulsion system."
Aerojet Rocketdyne Names Dynetics as Key AR1 Engine Team Member
"Following the U.S. Air Force selection of AR1 for a Rocket Propulsion System award, Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AJRD), named Dynetics of Huntsville, Alabama, as a key team member for the AR1 engine development."
"United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin LLC, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, entered into a public-private partnership with the U.S. Air Force to develop a new rocket propulsion system to power Vulcan -- ULA's next-generation launch system."
"The year 2015 was a record-setting year for start-up space ventures with investment and debt financing of $2.7 billion (excluding debt financing, $2.3 billion). Nearly twice as much venture capital ($1.8 billion) was invested in space in 2015 than in the prior 15 years, combined. More than 50 venture capital firms invested in space deals in 2015, the most in any year during the 15-year study period (2000-2015)."
Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic
"Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS, today unveiled its newly completed SpaceShipTwo. The rollout ceremony was attended by Sir Richard Branson and his family, Virgin Galactic's Future Astronauts, and partners. Based on the smaller X-PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan, SpaceShipTwo is designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space. Virgin Galactic's space flight experience features an air launch followed by a rocket-powered ascent at three and a half times the speed of sound, the silence of space, several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness and views of our home planet."
"Although NASA is proceeding with development of the SLS, a number of outside panels have questioned whether NASA can afford to build, fly and, sustain the expensive program, especially with projections of low flight rates of one launch or fewer per year. The biggest concern is that the rocket is so expensive to fly it precludes a meaningful exploration program within NASA's existing budget."
Keith's note: With the cuts to both SLS and Orion in the Administration's FY 2017 budget you can expect the same food fight with Congress to pick up where it left off last time. And as was the case before, Congress will go after Commercial Crew and Cargo, Technology, and Earth Science to put SLS and Orion back at the level Congress wants. Of course, election time will soon skew everything and the chances that there will be a formal budget will drop. The net result is that NASA will not know for certain what its budget will be and this uncertainty will cause launch dates to slip to the right. With these slips the overall cost of the SLS and Orion programs will increase - and commercial crew will take longer to happen than might otherwise be the case.
Naturally, the next Administration will stall for time and eventually appoint a blue ribbon panel to write a report and the cycle will start all over again. Their conclusion will be that NASA has no plan (and that it needs to hurry up and develop one) and, by the way, NASA cannot do all of the things it has been tasked to do under a budget that does not grow. Considering that all of these arguments are set to occur under a NASA budget that is likely going to stay flat, nothing will change since no one will give up pushing for the things that they want NASA to do. The inevitable result will be that NASA will end up with a launch system that will have nothing to launch on the imaginary #JourneyToNowhere.
|Keith's note: @NASA tweeted this to more than 14,600,000 followers:||Keith's note: NASAWATCH replied:|
Keith's note: A request for NASA:
With regard to "1,600 new technologies a year" OK: "a year" means annually i.e. within a 365 day period. Implicit in this claim is the suggestion that this is (or has been) done every year. That public claim having been made, can you provide a list that includes each and every one of these "new technologies" - technologies that were created/announced/revealed within any single 365 day period in NASA's existence? Please provide that year, the name of each of the technologies, and how each item is a separate "technology" from any other "technology". Oh yes, please define what you mean by "technology". If you cannot provide such a list then, one might task, how can you make such a claim? Has this happend in more than one year?
With regard to "Thousands of products, services, and processes", the plural "thousands" clearly implies multiples of 1,000 i.e. more than 2,000. Can you list each of the "products, services, and processes" that you have collected so as to be able to make this claim? Again, if you cannot provide such a list then, one might task, how can you make such a claim?
Yes there will be FOIAs and additional requests for you to ignore. If your claims are true, then that's very cool and worth further promulgation. If they are not then this is a substantial disservice to taxpayers.
Orbital ATK: 880/1000
Sierra Nevada: 879/1000
Keith's 2 Feb update: Eric Stallmer and his staff at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation have risen to the challenge (on very short notice) and have set up their own livestream of this conference - you can view it here: . Too bad the FAA has not figured out a way to tell everyone that this event is now being streamed.
Keith's 1 Feb 2:53 pm note: The annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference is being held in Washington, DC on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Unlike the past several meetings none of the sessions will be webcast. So, unless you are in the room, you won't be able to listen in. As best I can understand the situation from the FAA they do not know how to do a webcast themselves and/or can only do a webcast that costs vast sums of money. Its too bad the FAA did not invite NASA TV to come over and do a webcast. NASA TV covers virtually everything that NASA does - and the whole space commerce thing is something that NASA is hot on these days. Indeed, if you look at the agenda multiple panels at this event are filled with NASA people. Oddly, no one from CASIS is speaking - and they are all about space commerce.
When things are deliberately closed off like this, its hard to take a lot of what FAA and NASA say about space commerce seriously - especially when they approach the promulgation of their activities so half-heartedly. NASA wants everyone to know that they are doing commercial crew and cargo and that they want the private sector to take over routine chores in LEO so that NASA can focus its efforts elsewhere. Indeed, their whole cis-lunar exploration plan requires that this happen. But when it comes to the meetings wherein the nuts and bolts of commercializing LEO are discussed - its suddenly too hard to do a simple webcast. Yes, its FAA's meeting - but the agency most affected is NASA. You'd think that something as simple as a webcast would be easy to do. I did them from Everest Base Camp for crying out loud.
Why investors are following Musk, Bezos in betting on the stars, Washington Post
"The new space investors are catching up with the slow, but growing development of the commercial space sector, which NASA has been fostering for years. With the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has awarded billions of dollars in contracts to commercial companies so that they could develop rockets to fly cargo and, eventually, astronauts to the International Space Station. Still, the industry is diverse, and different sectors are more advanced, and profitable, than others. Cubesats, the tiny satellites that can swarm around the Earth beaming back images of the planet, are already in high demand. Launching commercial and government satellites is also big business. But the emergence of other sectors, such as space tourism and asteroid mining, is still in the future."
Accomack Supervisors Blasted With Issues, Eastern Shore Post
"The rocket that malfunctioned at Wallops Island in October 2014 showed a grim picture of what could happen to nearby landowners. NASA's blast zone is worrying those who reside inside, people whose families have lived on the farms for generations. Some are scared of property damage while others are wondering just how the designation will shape their future. "It ought to be a big concern to anyone who lives in these circles," said Fred Darby of Assawoman, adding that those who live farther south haven't escaped because if his property values go down, those who live or own in Belle Haven or Parksley or elsewhere will have to "take up the slack." Darby warned, "There has to be a balance." And he noted the effect on the local "quality of life."
Blue Origin Flies New Shepard To Space - Again (with video)
"The very same New Shepard booster that flew above the Karman line and then landed vertically at its launch site last November has now flown and landed again, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both capsule and booster gently returned to Earth for recovery and reuse."
Keith's 21 Jan note: This NOTAM - Notice to Airmen - has been issued by the FAA for the area where Blue Origin launches.
"!FDC 6/5414 ZAB TX. AIRSPACE VAN HORN, TX. TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS DUE TO SPACE FLIGHT OPERATIONS WI AN AREA DEFINED AS 17 NM RADIUS OF 3127N10446W OR THE SALT FLAT/SFL/VORTAC 125 DEGREE RADIAL AT 24 NM, SFC TO UNL. PURSUANT TO 14CFR SECTION 91.143 TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS ARE IN EFFECT. DLY 1300-2100 1601221300-1601232100."
Keith's Update: They did.
Charles D. Walker: Don't relinquish all space exploration to private firms, Charles Walker, Arizona Daily Star
"The idea is attractive, even if commercial plans for a Mars mission are hypothetical at best. But as much as I support the private space industry, experience and common sense tell me that a commercial Mars human landing won't ever get off the ground not unless NASA goes there first. Businesses are slaves to short-term balance sheets, and private space-industry investors and shareholders are notoriously risk-averse. Even wealthy entrepreneurs won't throw their money away. They'll back straightforward missions like delivering cargo to the space station 250 miles above the Earth using mature and well-tested technologies if they can turn a profit within a reasonable time with acceptable risk."
Keith's note: This is the sort of Pro-SLS, only-government-can-explore sort of nonsense that Mary Lynne Dittmar and her Coalition for Deep Space Exploration are pushing. (this op ed is linked to from the Coalition's website). This is how Dittmar retweeted a link to this op ed:
This statement by Dittmar is fundamentally silly given that the "whims of market or investors" are precisely what push the management of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, ULA, Aerojet, and the rest of the aerospace sector to pursue big government projects such as Orion and SLS. Dittmar can't have it both ways.
Keith's additional note: At the NASA Advisory Council meeting last year, Bill Gerstenmaier made it very clear that NASA needs to have a fully commercialized LEO infrastructure in order to free up NASA resources to focus on SLS/Orion-based exploration of cislunar space - and later, of Mars. When asked what would happen if that LEO commercialization did not happen, Gerstenmaier said that NASA would have to reassess how it would accomplish its exploration goals. Clearly, Mary Lynn Dittmar, NASA's future exploration of space is intimately tied to the success of LEO commercialization - an activity that will be driven by the "whims of market or investors". Besides, everyone knows that NASA's ability to explore is, always has been, and always will be "held hostage to whims of" -- Congress. As such, what is wrong with trying to find an alternate path to enable the exploration and utilization of space?
SpaceX Puts Jason-3 In Orbit and Almost Lands On A Barge (With launch video), SpaceRef
"The Jason-3 Satellite was successfully place in orbit today by a Falcon 9. However while that rocket's first stage landed within 1.3 meters of its target on the barge leg #3 did not lock properly."
RUD = "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly"
Keith's note: I received a hard copy of NASA Spinoff 2016 today. I have not actually held a hard copy of this publication in a long time. Having worked on portions of NASA Spinoff reports in the 80s and early 90s I have to say that this document is much more detailed and varied than what I worked on back in the day. That said, as hard as this office tries to include things, they often mission some glaringly obvious spinoffs. In one instance they missed a spinoff that has actually saved lives all by itself. The spinoff NASA missed is FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response), an innovative device developed by JPL that uses radar to detect the heartbeats of people buried under rubble after a natural disaster such as an earthquake. Alas there is no mention of FINDER in the 2016 or 2015 NASA Spinoff reports. There was no 2014 report. If it is mentioned somewhere in these reports, then I apologize, but I could not find it.
On 24 April 2015 a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal - a nation woefully unprepared to respond to such an event. NASA FINDER technology was on site with a very short period of time and was used to locate victims under collapsed buildings. The basic technology behind FINDER is a microwave radar system that can detect a human heartbeat as well as their breathing under 30 feet of rubble or through 20 feet of solid concrete. The device is so precise that it can differentiate between a human and animals. This amazing device has quite a story. NASA and DHS sponsored a media demonstration in May 2015 while rescue operations were still underway in Nepal. I wrote about this in "Using Space Radar To Hear Human Heartbeats in Nepal". NASA also put a prominent feature online as well. Yet NASA's Spinoff people seem to not be paying complete attention to what the agency is actually doing.
Again, while NASA's tech transfer and spinoff efforts have made great improvements, they still manage to pass over some truly amazing pieces of technology that NASA has developed - hardware with a proven ability to save lives.
- Another NASA Spinoff That NASA Ignores, earlier post
- NASA's Latest Stealth Spinoff, earlier post
- Another NASA Spinoff That NASA Isn't Telling You About, earlier post
"NASA has awarded three cargo contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency's journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024. The agency unveiled its selection of Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia; Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada; and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California to continue building on the initial resupply partnerships with two American companies."
"NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses - simultaneously -- on getting our astronauts to deep space."
- CSF Congratulates ISS Commercial Resupply Awardees and Partners
- NASA Selects Orbital ATK For Space Station Cargo Contract
- NASA Selects Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser Spacecraft for CRS2 Contract
-Smith, Babin Congratulate NASA Commercial Cargo Awardees
"Bid goodbye to Yosemite's familiar Ahwahnee hotel, Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass ski areaor their names, anyway. The National Park Service said today it will rename many well-known spots in Yosemite, as part of an ongoing legal dispute with an outgoing concessionaire that has trademarked many names in the world-famous park."
"Concessionaire Delaware North, which previously ran The Ahwahnee, Curry Village, and other properties at Yosemite, claims it was forced to purchase the intellectual property of the properties it operated, including the names, in 1993. Now Delaware North has lost the park contract to competitor Aramark and wants to be paid $50 million for the naming rights."
Keith's 14 January update: I am told that NASA will NOT be issuing a statement after all with regard to Trademarks held for "space shuttle atlantis" by Delaware North - the same company that ran services at Yosemite and still runs the KSC Visitor's Center.
SpaceX has released a slick new video of the December 21 Falcon 9 launch with new footage from the landing. Put it full screen, turn up the volume and enjoy.
"In December of 2015, we analyzed the amount of staff that we employed throughout all of our departments at Bigelow Aerospace, and discovered that numerous departments were overstaffed. Regrettably, we had to make the choice that, beginning with the New Year, we need to follow standard business protocols, which sensibly requires an attempt to achieve balance in how much staff is necessary. These layoffs will not compromise in any way our ability to execute the work and activities that we presently have ongoing."
Big Changes at Space News, Inc., SpacePolicy Online
"An email from Space News Publisher Bill Klanke last month announced that the "must read" newspaper/website for anyone who wants to know what's happening in the space business (apart from SpacePolicyOnline.com, of course!) was changing from a weekly newspaper to bi-weekly magazine format. The difficulties facing news publications in today's digital/social media age are well documented and that alone was not much of a surprise. But farewell messages today from Executive Editor Warren Ferster, a 21-year Space News veteran, and reporter Dan Leone, who covered the NASA beat, were stunning."
Keith's note: We at NASAWatch.com and SpaceRef.com wish Warren and Dan the best and hope that our friends at Space News continue to cover the space beat as they have for several decades.
Keith's update: Space News Copy Chief Todd Windsor and Office Manager Christine Frazee were also let go.
Is there a new reusable age around the corner? Sober analysis says no. https://t.co/k6OXJszMLB— George Sowers (@george_sowers) January 2, 2016
Keith's note: Now that Sen. Shelby has used his Dark Side powers to enable ULA's addiction to Russian engines to continue, ULA is off using its staff to sow seeds of anti-reusable technology such as that being promoted by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic. This slow motion desperation is a clear sign of a paradigm shift that has begun to leave some companies behind. In this case its ULA.
- ULA Gets A Russian Christmas Gift From Sen. Shelby, earlier post
- Sen. Shelby: The King Of Political Cronyism and Hypocrisy, earlier post
- Knights Templar Inspired Business Moves at ULA, earlier post
Washington's 'Star Wars', Politico
"A Washington brawl has broken out over the future of the U.S. military's ability to reach orbit, with the powerhouse combo of Boeing and Lockheed Martin jostling with the scrappy yet well-funded upstart of entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX for multibillion-dollar contracts for launching satellites. The competition is upending the norms of the defense contractor heavyweights, who are not used to dealing with relatively fresh rivals, and has released a flood of lobbying cash. SpaceX has spent more than $1.3 million on lobbying this year and while the Boeing-Lockheed joint effort, called United Launch Alliance, spent more than $900,000 both on pace to easily set new records for the companies once the final quarter of 2015 is reported."
"ULA has ordered additional Atlas engines to serve our existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers until a new American-made engine can be developed and certified. While ULA strongly believes now is the right time to move to an American engine solution for the future, it is also critical to ensure a smooth transition to that engine and to preserve healthy competition in the launch industry."
Rocket security for the Rocket City - thanks to Senator Shelby, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Huntsville Times
"We thank Senator Shelby for his leadership in the Senate, for securing our nation's defense, ensuring America stays on the technological forefront in space, and for keeping important, valuable jobs in North Alabama."
- Sen. Shelby: The King Of Political Cronyism and Hypocrisy, earlier post
- Congress Blinks on RD-180s, earlier post
- DoD Denies RD-180 Waiver For ULA, earlier post
- Rep. Rogers Hates Everything Russian - Except Russian Rocket Engines, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts
"... the FAA is announcing the availability of a FONSI, based on the analysis and findings of the U.S. Air Force's (USAF's) December 2014 Environmental Assessment for the Space Exploration Technologies Vertical Landing of the Falcon Vehicle and Construction at Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida (EA). Subsequent to the USAF issuing the EA, Launch Complex-13 was renamed to Landing Complex-1 (LC-1)."
Elon Musk's SpaceX returns to flight and pulls off dramatic, historic landing, Washington Post, (Owned by Jeff Bezos)
"On Monday, SpaceX's first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival [Jeff Bezos], by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what's considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers."
"A few weeks ago, Jeff Bezos inaugurated his Twitter account with the surprise announcement that his space company, Blue Origin, had launched and landed a rocket after suborbital flight. But SpaceX managed to deliver 11 satellites to orbit, which requires an order of magnitude more thrust, and land its rocket. SpaceX's booster is coming a hell of lot faster, and its landing much trickier. So Elon Musk's got this one. (For now.)"
"SpaceX made space exploration history tonight when it brought a Falcon 9 first stage back to a safe landing on Earth. Minutes after ending its portion of the launch, the first stage reoriented itself, fired its engines, and came in for a pinpoint landing at Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile the Falcon 9's second stage continued into space eventually deploying its entire 11 satellite ORBCOMM payload successfully."
Marc's note: SpaceX will attempt their return to flight Sunday evening with the launch of ORBCOMM-2 mission from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This follows the successful static fire test on Friday.
Of note, SpaceX may attempt landing of the Falcon 9 rockets first stage at Space Launch Complex 13.
Update: You can watch the launch live on SpaceRef on the SpaceX channel starting at 8:00 p.m. ET (0100 GMT).
Marc's Update: The launch has been delayed 24 hours as there will be more favourable conditions for a landing attempt tomorrow. The new launch window is between time is 8:29 - 8:34 p.m. ET.
"This is the third in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing and SpaceX received their first orders in May and November, respectively, and have started planning for, building and procuring the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first missions for the agency. NASA will identify at a later time which company will fly a mission to the station first.
Boeing met the criteria for NASA to award the company its second mission with the successful completion of interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews for its Starliner spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and associated ground system."
"A massive U.S. government spending bill, released by lawmakers Dec. 16, effectively lifts a ban on the Russian rocket engine that powers United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket at least until Oct. 1, re-energizing competition for Defense Department launch contracts between ULA and SpaceX. The new language, included in the omnibus spending bill for 2016, says "that notwithstanding any other provision of law" the Air Force could award a launch contract to any certified company "regardless of the country of origin of the rocket engine that will be used on its launch vehicle, in order to ensure robust competition and continued assured access to space."
"We found deficiencies in NASA's management processes and controls that may limit the usefulness of the Agency's efforts to better manage its space technology investments. First, although NASA has revised its technology roadmaps to provide additional information regarding how specific technologies will help meet Agency mission objectives, it needs to complete the ongoing revision of its Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan to provide the necessary detail to determine the projects that best support Agency priorities. Second, the information in TechPort remains incomplete and inaccurate, impairing the value of the database as a tool to manage and share information about NASA's space technology portfolio. For example, we selected a sample of 49 active projects and found the database contained no information for 16 (33 percent) of the projects."
Keith's note: On 17 November 2015 NASA issued a press release titled "NASA Awards Two Robots to University Groups for R&D Upgrades" regarding NASA JSC's R-5 robot. At the time I asked "Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?". I sent NASA PAO a simple request asking "How many applications/proposals were submitted? Which schools submitted proposals?" PAO replied "Thanks for reaching out to us. To answer your question, it's not our practice to share information about the number of proposals we received or which proposals were not selected. The two university groups were chosen through a competitive selection process from groups entered in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. The NASA challenge was limited to U.S. university participants in the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals." (see Never Ask NASA a Simple Question)
Gee, all I wanted to know was how many organization submitted proposals and NASA refused to tell me that simple number. What now had me wondering was why NASA was so shy about providing such a simple answer. I did not ask who had applied, simply how many universities had applied. Hmmm ... could it be that only two universities applied? If so, how did it happen that they knew to apply? Did NASA drop hints to potential submitters? Do recall that the R-5 robot has been somewhat of a failure and JSC would just love to pull something successful out of this mess.
R-5 is not the droid you were looking for.
Developed in secrecy by NASA JSC, R-5 competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 and tied for dead last. Indeed, the R-5 was not even able to get out of its own way in some portions of the competition. NASA never really explained what this robot was for or why it developed it to have a female shape and form.
After a period of silence, NASA decided in 2015 to haul out their failed R-5 droids out of storage and see if anyone could fix them. Since NASA could not/would not fix them, why not ask if others can help? Not a bad idea. So they asked universities to help them fix the broken robots.
When the two university teams were announced (no doubt highly capable). I wondered how many others had applied and what the interest was in this sort of thing on a national level I was also interested in how hard NASA had worked to actually find the best teams. Mostly I was interested in the number - so I asked PAO. And I got the odd non-response response that PAO provided me.
Not getting an answer I submitted a FOIA request on November 2015. Actually I submitted it twice since the NASA online FOIA submission website was broken that day. Here is the text of my FOIA request:
"Because of the growth and demand for small satellites, the Canadian Space Commerce Association decided earlier this year to host its first Canadian SmallSat Symposium this coming February 2nd and 3rd. The symposium is about opportunity, building capability and international partnerships."
Marc's note: I'm organizing this event. We've got some great speakers announced with more to come. We have Greg Wyler opening the symposium, Pete Worden keynoting a lunch and the President of the Canadian Space Agency delivering a plenary to just name a few people. Oh, and of course we'll have some speakers from NASA.
If the small satellite segment is your thing then why not come? There's still a few days to submit an abstract to speak and early registration is underway until December 23rd.
We've also set aside a Business to Business room for those who want to talk business.
SpaceRef/NASA Watch is the media sponsor for the event, though there will be other media present.
Contact me if you want more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the symposium website: https://smallsat.ca
"In a statement last month, ULA said "it wants nothing more to compete," but was prevented from doing so because of the lack of engines, and because it could not comply with the accounting structures required under the contract. It also said that the Air Force used a procurement process that would give a lot of weight to the prices companies bid and not their experience and past performance, which could have given ULA an edge. But McCain said the assertion that it's a "low-price" contract "is erroneous." Rather the contract is a "best value" source selection that calls for "a careful evaluation of performance, launch operations, schedule and price," he wrote."
Suddenly, SpaceX Is the Only Game in Town, Motley Fool
"Turns out Tory Bruno wasn't just whistling Dixie. At a hearing before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in March, United Launch Alliance CEO Salvatore "Tory" Bruno issued an ultimatum: Congress must either lift its ban on the purchase of new RD-180 Russian rocket motors for use in America's space program or resign itself to letting one single space provider dictate prices to the government on all future satellite launches. Turns out, it's going to be Door No. 2."
John McCain wants ULA audited, blasts Colorado space company, Denver Business Journal
"McCain, whom President Barack Obama defeated in the 2008 presidential election, also called for a report on whether ULA's decision to use its dwindling supply of Russian-made rocket engines on non-military launches was an attempt to "subvert" the will of Congress."
- ULA Passes on GPS Launch - SpaceX Wins By Default, earlier post
- DoD Denies RD-180 Waiver For ULA, earlier post
- The Four Amigos and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post
- LockMart Sort Of Threatens to Kill ULA Over RD-180 Imports, earlier post
"The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station's Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 9:26 a.m. EST. Cygnus is the first cargo ship to be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Unity module."
International Perspectives on Space Resource Rights, op Ed, Space News
"If the U.S. space resources law were about claiming territory, or an assertion of sovereignty or appropriation of "celestial land," there would be a case for opponents to invoke Article II that prohibits such actions. But it isn't; the U.S. law is simply about confirming and codifying the rights for U.S. private citizens/companies to peacefully explore, extract and own resources extracted, just like the U.S. and Soviet governments did back in the 1960s and 1970s, and just like China, India and other countries intend to do in the coming years through government and private missions."
"Even some people within the U.S. government have raised questions about the law. "I'm not sure that the U.S. Congress can pass a law that authorizes American citizens to go do something" like claim rights to space resources, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at a Dec. 1 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council at the Johnson Space Center, when asked by a council member about the new law."
Keith's note: NASA is trying to un-spin Bolden's comments - but this is not a gaff. He has said this to others before. He does not understand/and or agree with the concepts involved, what Congress supported, and what his boss signed into law.
- Bolden Says ARM Is About Planetary Defense But Not Protecting Earth, earlier post
- Asteroid Retrieval Is Not The Prime Intent of NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission, earlier post
- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale, earlier post
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids
"Moon Express, Inc. has received official verification today of their launch contract from XPRIZE as part of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, a global competition for privately funded teams to land an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the moon by December 31, 2017. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket combined with the company's "MX-1E" micro-lander as part of a 2017 mission."
Google Lunar X Prize to Verify Moon Express Launch Contract (October 2, 2015)
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)."
"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: So Moon Express announced their contract first but SpaceIL had theirs verified first. Each will claim they were first for history, but the only thing that matters at this point is that one or both and possibly more actually launch, make it to the moon, do something and build their business case.
"A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-4 Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Dec. 6 at 4:44 p.m. EST. The mission, flown for Orbital ATK under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract, marks the first time the Cygnus has flown on an Atlas V rocket. This was ULA's 12th launch in 2015. At just over 8 tons, Cygnus is the heaviest payload to launch atop an Atlas V rocket."
@StationCDRKelly Day 254. We got our candle lit. #HappyHanukkah and #GoodNight from @Space_Station!
"Virgin Galactic has introduced a 747 to its fleet of vehicles as part of a technical update on its LauncherOne small satellite launch service. The 747-400 commercial jet aircraft, previously operated by Virgin Atlantic under the nickname 'Cosmic Girl,' will provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle."
"On the Monday before Thanksgiving NASA made what it deemed a momentous announcement: the space agency had awarded $1.16 billion to Aerojet Rocketdyne for rocket engines that would power its "Journey to Mars." By contrast, a few hours earlier, the private space company Blue Origin secretly launched a rocket into space and safely landed it. The contrast between the deal struck in corridors of Washington D.C. and what had happened in the desert of West Texas could not have been more stark."
"Blue Origin is not the only company in hot pursuit of reusable rockets. SpaceX has come close to succeeding in two attempts to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle on an ocean platform. In the near future, SpaceX will also attempt to touch down the first stage of the Falcon 9 on land close to the launch site. Sooner or later, SpaceX will succeed and will be nailing these landings, just like Blue Origin did. Other companies and countries are working on reusable rockets and spacecraft as well. Those working on reusable suborbital vehicles include Virgin Galactic with their SpaceShipTwo, XCOR Aerospace with their Lynx rocketplane, and Masten Space Systems with their vertical takeoff and landing rockets."
Keith's note: This is not the first time in recent memory that NASA has made decisions to revisit old technology as part of bad habits it just can't shake. The agency spent over a billion dollars on J-2X and then changed its mind. Meanwhile everyone outside of NASA who is spending their own money on rocketships is striving toward reusability for economic reasons. But NASA doesn't do economical things in-house, now does it?
"On November 6, 2015 UP Aerospace successfully executed a mission for NASA to deploy the Maraia Earth Return Capsule. The mission reached an altitude of 75 miles above Spaceport America and landed 30 miles down range on White Sands Missile Range. The missions was UP Aerospace's 10th SpaceLoft rocket launch and the first deployment mission."
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."
"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 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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Private enterprise will never lead a space frontier," Tyson told me in a phone interview. "In all the history of human conduct, it's as clear to me as day follows night that private enterprise won't do that, because it's expensive. It's dangerous. You have uncertainty and risks, because you're dealing with things that haven't been done before. That's what it means to be on a frontier."
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 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?
"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 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."
"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."
"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."
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 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
"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".
"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
"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.
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.
"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).."
"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.
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 (http://goldenspikecompany.com/) 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.
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.
"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)
"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."
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.)"
"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 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."
"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
"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
"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."
"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."
"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 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. § 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".
"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 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 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."
"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."
"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?
"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, 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
"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.
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 people.nasa.gov her phone number is not 000-000-0000 - it is 256-544-6985 and her real email is email@example.com.
"Point of Contact
Name: Bonnie F. James
Title: STMD Senior Investment Strategist
"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.
"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."
"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, Investors.com
"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."
"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."
"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 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 ...
"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.
"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."
"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
"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 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.