"NASA's development of the Agency's first integrated master plan is a positive step toward better managing its diverse real property assets. However, we found deficiencies within the individual Center master plans the Agency is using to develop the integrated Agency plan that may limit the Plan's usefulness for making strategic real property decisions. Specifically, we found that NASA is developing its initial master plan based on Center master plans that (1) were developed using funding assumptions for the recapitalization program that are no longer realistic and (2) are missing essential information needed to make objective Agency-wide real property decisions. In addition, 5 of the 10 Centers did not develop master plans to reduce their real property footprint in accordance with Agency goals because of uncertain mission requirements."
Commercialization: December 2011 Archives
"ILS has informed SES that the launch of the Proton launch vehicle with the SES-4 satellite was postponed for approximately 25 days for technical reasons with the avionics system of the launch vehicle's Breeze M upper stage. The additional time is needed due to the destacking and replacement of the affected avionics unit. The satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral."
Powerful communications satellite feared lost in space, Spaceflight now (Aug 2011)
"Four of the five Breeze M burns were performed within the prescribed timeframes," Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said in a press release. "In the time interval between the fourth and fifth burns there occurred irregularities in telemetry data downlinking and reception of signals from both the Breeze M and the [spacecraft]."
NASA Needs To Wake Up to Reality, Chris Kraft, Space News
"So come on NASA, wake up! Take the lid off and turn loose the human resources you already have in place. Most of these bright people came to NASA excited about the future, about going back to the Moon to stay and becoming a part of what could be another renaissance in space. Building a great big rocket is not a necessary expenditure at this time. In fact, the budget that will be consumed by this big rocket will prevent NASA from any meaningful human exploration for at least the next decade and probably beyond. We don't have to march in place while we wait for the powers that be to cancel it. Let's be innovative; let's wake up the sleeping giant and have at returning to the Moon right now."
NASA, Industry Leaders Discuss New Booster Development for Space Launch System (with presentation charts)
"On Dec. 15, more than 120 aerospace industry leaders from more than 70 companies attended the Space Launch System's Advanced Booster Industry Day held at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The event focused on a NASA Research Announcement for the Space Launch System's (SLS) advanced booster. For explorations beyond the first two test flights, the SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with a significant increase in thrust over existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters."
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will present an updated status of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) strategy on Tuesday, December 20, 2011. The Forum will be held at the Press Site at Kennedy Space Center from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. NASA will broadcast the Program Forum online via webcast."
"Instead of awarding contracts for the next phase of the Commercial Crew Program, the agency plans to use multiple, competitively awarded Space Act Agreements. Using competitive Space Act Agreements instead of contracts will allow NASA to maintain a larger number of partners during this phase of the program, with the flexibility to adjust technical direction, milestones and funding."
"NASA's planned approach for acquiring U.S. commercial crew transportation faces significant challenges that could impact its success, although it includes some good acquisition practices. Specifically, NASA's current funding level for its program is lower than anticipated and may not allow NASA to award multiple contracts, which is its key element for maintaining cost control by sustaining competition through all phases of its commercial crew transportation program. Moreover, the critical need to transport crew to the space station beginning in 2016 requires an aggressive program schedule that may not be attainable given NASA's experiences with past government and commercial development efforts."
"Space Act Agreements are a proven way to get rapid, cost-effective results and will help ensure that the Commercial Crew Program is a success," said CSF Executive Director Alex Saltman. "Space Act Agreements were used in the previous rounds of the Commercial Crew program, as well as the COTS Cargo Program. A NASA cost study has shown that the COTS Cargo development program, using Space Act Agreements, has been successful for a fraction of what a traditionally run program would have cost."
Rep. Hall Questions Implications of NASA Commercial Crew Announcement
"Given current federal budget constraints, I continue to be concerned about NASA's ability to afford contracting with two or more companies to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Time is of the essence. We need to be able fully utilize our Space Station until the end of this decade, and we also need to end our reliance on other countries to ferry our astronauts. In order to reduce risk and cost, and to minimize further schedule slips, it would be my hope that two commercial companies would team together to jointly develop a cost-effective and safe launch system."
"While I am sympathetic to the difficulties NASA is experiencing following receipt of its appropriations for FY 2012, in light of NASA's acknowledgement that higher risk will be incurred using this new approach, I am concerned that NASA's plan does not appear to contain sufficient margins and other risk reduction measures to give Congress confidence that it has a high probability of successfully meeting the objective of providing safe and cost-effective commercial crew transportation to and from the International Space Station by 2016 or even 2017."
Space Company Stratolaunch To Blast Rockets From Huge New Aircraft, Popular Mechanics
"Because Rutan's design ditches the launchpad and uses a low-cost rocket, Griffin says Stratolaunch hopes to outdo its competitors by lowering the price of going to orbit and increasing the number of launch windows. ("Any orbit. Any time" is the new company's slogan.) "I don't know that it's a better way, but it's an approach which has a long history," Griffin said."
Keith's note: "I don't know that it's a better way"? Ouch. With uncertain comments coming from one of its board members (Mike Griffin) it doesn't look like the whole Straolaunch team is totally supportive of the company's approach. Not a good sign - especially this early in the game.
"Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced today that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to develop the next generation of space travel. Allen and Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond earth's atmosphere, are developing a revolutionary approach to space transportation: an air-launch system to provide orbital access to space with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility."
Keith's note: The press conference was live tweeted today on Twitter at @NASAWatch. Alas, despite an elaborate media telecon - the existence of which was, itself, embargoed, the dozens of media who dialed in were not allowed to ask questions. That said, it looks like a cool idea. If they can hang a half million pound satellite launcher off of this, imagine what sort of suborbital passenger carrying vehicle it could carry.
Scaled Composites and SpaceX have a track record - even if Dynetics does not (Check out their non-existant background in integrating large space launch systems). Clearly the weight will be placed on Scaled and SpaceX to make this work. Again - they have experience.
"The Huntsville, Ala., company, named Stratolaunch Systems, promises to bring "airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions." The company plans for a first flight within five years. In a news conference Tuesday, Rutan and former NASA chief Mike Griffin said they joined Stratolaunch as board members. Along with Allen, the trio introduced the company's novel idea of launching payloads into orbit aboard what would be the largest aircraft ever flown."
"Their plans, unveiled Tuesday, call for a twin-fuselage aircraft with wings longer than a football field to carry a rocket high into the atmosphere and drop it, avoiding the need for a launch pad and the expense of additional rocket fuel."
"The plane will be built by Scaled Composites LLC, the Mojave, California, company founded by Rutan; the multistage booster rocket based on the Falcon 9 will come from by Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX; and the integration system will be provided by Dynetics Inc., based in Huntsville, Alabama."
"Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, also a Stratolaunch board member, joined Allen and Rutan at a press conference in Seattle to announce the project. "We believe this technology has the potential to someday make spaceflight routine by removing many of the constraints associated with ground launched rockets," Griffin said. "Our system will also provide the flexibility to launch from a large variety of locations."
Keith's note: This is confusing: Mike Griffin was for commercial space - before he was against it - but he is now also for it? Is he still against it under some circumstances - but not others? I can't wait to hear him testify about all of this before Congress ... Alas, it would seem that the core of this activity seems to involve Mike Griffin and the former Ares 1 management team now employed at Dynetics (with X-33, X-34 experience as well).
Oh yes: Someone with a calIer ID Dynetics 1-256-665-4236 called me very early this morning - after midnight (12:53 am EST) but did not leave a message. I called that number back today but got no answer - just voicemail. Later, someone who identified himself as "Jim Hall" (I think that is what he mumbled) calling from that same number called me after 11 pm tonight and said that he had no recollection of calling me earlier. C'mon guys. This is amateur hour. Prank calls?
"NASA has announced the launch target for Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be Feb. 7, 2012. Pending completion of final safety reviews, testing and verification, NASA also has agreed to allow SpaceX to send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight."
"Garver also announced Blue Origin has delivered its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly -- the engine's combustion chamber and nozzle -- to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where testing will begin in April 2012. The company is developing a reusable launch vehicle, designed to take off and land vertically, and an escape system for its crewed spacecraft. Testing will take place on the center's E-1 Test Stand."
"We at Virgin Galactic believe that providing researchers and their experiments affordable, routine, and safe access to space is a core part of our mission. The same novel and innovative features that make SpaceShipTwo the ideal vehicle to carry our private passengers into space also make it a versatile and attractive research platform that we know will allow scientists, engineers, educators, and others to collect data and study questions in a way they have never before been able to do. The large volume and weight capacity, high apogee, and high flight rate of the WK2 and SS2 allow VG to offer a unique capability for payload and technology development in the upper atmosphere, outer space and microgravity environments."
Crunch Time for COTS, Jeff Foust, Space Quarterly
"The next several months represent a critical period of spaceflight. Two companies are planning a series of launches of new rockets carrying spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Their goal: to demonstrate that private companies, supported by NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative, can handle the critical task of delivering supplies for the ISS. The stakes are high. If either or both companies succeed, they will demonstrate that private firms are up to the challenge of supporting the ISS, giving the station a new lifeline, all the more critical after the August failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft. If they fail, though, it will raise new doubts that commercial firms can handle the bigger task of crew transportation, while putting the long-term future of the station in jeopardy."
Armadillo Aerospace Launches Successfully from Spaceport America
"New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) officials announced today a successful launch over the weekend of an advanced sounding rocket designed and built by Armadillo Aerospace. The launch took place from Spaceport America's vertical launch complex on Sun., Dec. 4. The test flight was a non-public, unpublished event at the request of Armadillo Aerospace, as the company is testing proprietary advanced launch technologies."
"A report due within 90 days should shed more light on the results from two days of invitation-only space policy meetings this week in Orlando that sought to improve cooperation among states. ... Federal agencies represented included NASA, the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security. ... NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Space Foundation CEO Elliott Pulham delivered keynote speeches, according to the agenda."
Keith's note: Why has NASA said nothing about this event? Bolden's remarks are not posted here - nor have any of the official NASA presentations been released. At a time when the Administration professes support for openness and transparency - and economic forces are of paramount concern, the last thing government should be doing is having secret discussions. Everyone is affected - everyone should be informed.
"As part of this event, conducted under Chatham House Rule, The Eisenhower Center facilitated discussions to enhance working relationships between Federal and State governments to advance U.S. capabilities within the various sectors of the space enterprise in today's constrained fiscal environment."
Chatham House Rule: "Care needs to be taken not to invoke the Chatham House Rule where what is intended is that the views discussed be kept confidential. The Chatham House Rule is intended to PROMOTE public discussion of the views expressed at a meeting, but without attributing those views to any individual or organisation."
Keith's update: At the STA luncheon on Capitol Hill today I asked CHarlie Bolden if NASA was going to post his comments at the forum. He said that they'd be online "this afternoon" Sure enough, they are online.
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) intends to issue a Draft NASA Research Announcement (NRA) on or about in the December 12, 2011, entitled "Space Launch System (SLS) Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction" for comment by industry through January 13, 2012."
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) will be holding an Industry Day at the MSFC for the SLS Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction activity. The Industry Day will be held December 15, 2011."
"NASA has elected to exercise the first of two available contract options for procurement of an additional Tracking Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) from Boeing Satellite Systems, Inc. of El Segundo, Calif. The estimated value of the contract option is $289 million and extends the period of performance through April 2024. Exercising the option will allow Boeing Satellite Systems to retain at least 300 American jobs."
Keith's note: So ... the major point NASA wants to drive home to the media is that this government procurement saves hundreds of jobs. What this satellite actually does is of seconardy importance. Curiously, Boeing (who actually got the contract) makes no mention of "hundred of jobs saved" in their press release.