Commercialization: June 2014 Archives

NASA's Commercial Crew Partners Focus on Testing, Analysis to Advance Designs

"NASA's aerospace industry partners are taking their designs and operational plans for the agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) through a series of comprehensive tests, evaluations and review boards this summer as they move through important milestones - all with an eye on launching people into orbit from American soil by 2017.

To meet milestones established in Space Act Agreements with NASA, the companies are completing specific assessments such as materials stress tests, engine firings and analysis, and system tests. The companies' engineers use data gathered from these tests to refine the design, then NASA's team uses the data to ensure the tests satisfy milestone objectives that provide confidence a spacecraft system or program is progressing toward its goals."

Related: Commercial Crew Partners Get Extension, SpaceNews

Astrobotic's Autonomous Landing System Tested in Masten's Xombie Flight, SpaceRef Business

"Astrobotic Technology's newly developed autonomous landing system was put to the test recently when it controlled Masten Space Systems' XA-0.1B Xombie suborbital technology demonstration rocket during a flight test at the Mojave Air and Space Port."

Related: NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Flight Opportunities Program.

Keith's note: SpaceX has field an amendment to their initial complaint about ULA. The amended complaint includes new information from a 20 June letter from Sen. John McCain to Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall. McCain's letter questions the lack of transparency around the cost of the Russian RD-180 engines that ULA currently uses for EELV launches.

- Text of SpaceX complaint amendment
- Text of McCain's letter

Elon Musk Is Opening A New Front In His Lawsuit Against The Air Force, Business Insider

"So neither the market nor the U.S. government gave RD Amross any reason to alter its business model. "ULA didn't get a gun to their head to make this deal," Keith Cowing, a former NASA astrobiologist and blogger at NASA Watch told Business Insider of ULA's use of a Russian-American joint venture as a rocket engine broker. "They do it willingly and openly, and the United States government sanctioned it. They're the sole supplier, they get to set the price, and we walk into this." But they're not really the sole supplier anymore. Whether McCain's accusations are true or not, SpaceX's entrance into competition for government launches would make RD Amross -- and business models based on an uninterrupted pipeline from foreign engine-builders to buyers in the U.S. government -- seem utterly outmoded."

World View Breaks World Record with Successful Test Flight [With Video], World View

"Representing a milestone accomplishment, World View, the commercial balloon spaceflight company, has successfully completed a scaled test flight of its high-altitude balloon spaceflight system breaking the world record for highest parafoil flight in the process."

Roscosmos Disavows Plan to Send Space Tourists to Moon, Moscow Times

"Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, will not be involved in a plan to send two space tourists on a flight around the Moon and was not consulted about the project, the federal space agency said. The mission, hatched by U.S.-based space tourism firm Space Adventures and a major Russian spacecraft manufacturer, Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, would see two space tourists travel to the Moon aboard a modified Russian Soyuz spacecraft by 2017. However, Roscosmos was kept out of the loop on the plan. The organizers "could have consulted with us before making such loud announcements," said Denis Lyskov, Roscosmos's deputy chief in charge of piloted flights, Izvestia reported Monday."

A private expedition to the Moon, Space Adventures

"Using flight proven Russian spacecraft we will fly two private citizens and one professional cosmonaut on a free return trajectory around the far side of the moon. They will come within 100km of the Moon's surface. If you chose to join this mission you will see the illuminated far-side of the Moon, and then witness the amazing sight of the Earth rising above the surface of the Moon. We expect our first mission to launch by 2017."

ULA RD-180 Update

Russia Bans U.S. From International Space Station: America Strikes Back, Motley Fool

"On Monday, ULA confirmed that it has signed contracts with "multiple" American rocket companies to begin working up "next-generation liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon first stage propulsion concepts" that could replace the RD-180 (the RD-180 uses liquid oxygen and kerosene as its fuel sources). Working at a breakneck pace, ULA said it expects to select a new design before the end of this year. Then, pushing the envelope on the usual five- to eight-year timeline usually needed to develop such engines, ULA said it will have a new rocket ready to fly by 2019. (In the meantime, ULA will try to string Russia's Energomash along, negotiating to keep the RD-180s coming until they're no longer needed.)"

ULA signs multiple contracts to pursue RD-180 engine replacement, Denver Post

"While the RD-180 has been a remarkable success, we believe now is the right time for American investment in a domestic engine," ULA's CEO Michael Gass said in a statement. "At the same time, given that ULA is the only certified launch provider of our nation's most important satellites, it is critical that America preserve current capabilities and options while simultaneously pursuing this new engine." ULA's announcement comes a week after the U.S. House Appropriations Committee asked for $220 million in the 2015 defense budget to go toward developing an alternative to the RD-180."

Sen. McCain Raises Concerns About Lack of Transparency on USAF RD-180 Procurement

"I am, in particular, interested in learning more about a company called RD Amross, the company from which United Launch Alliance (ULA) actually buys the RD-180 for use in EELV missions. It appears that RD Amross is a joint venture between P&W Power Generation Inc. and International Space Engines, Inc., a Delaware-registered subsidiary of the engine's Russian manufacturer NPO Energomash."

SpaceX launch delayed again, this time because of weather, Reuters

"For Saturday's launch attempt, the California-based company, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, canceled its webcast and provided no commentary about the launch countdown, a public service offered even for classified Department of Defense satellite launches. "For the first time since the end of the Cold War, a space launch from Cape Canaveral will not be broadcast to the press and the public,", which provides live launch coverage, wrote on its website."

Keith's note: This lack of visibility is rather unusual for SpaceX - a company that has gone out of its way to use social media and traditional media - with great success - to get word about its products and services to the widest audience possible. Indeed, just a week or so ago there was a large reception for the Dragon V2 in Washington DC and the news media was all over it. Flash forward. SpaceX explained this absence of a webcast yesterday as being due to the fact that these launches were becoming routine and that the webcasts are no longer needed. This was a little odd given that they had a webcast for the Friday launch attempt 24 hours earlier.

Yes, they are a private company and this is a commercial activity, so they have every right to do this. But that does not mean its the smart thing to do. As for SpaceX falcon launches being "routine" - since when is a rocket launch where the first stage uses landing legs to return to Earth "routine"?

That said, the reaction on the Twitterverse yesterday - albeit from space enthusiasts and space media - was swift and loud. The hashtag "#FalconNein" quickly appeared. One would hope that SpaceX is paying attention and realizes that they are doing something cool - as are other space companies - and that the more visible all of this launch stuff is, the more excitement is generated - and the greater the public appreciation for the reality of space utilization becomes.

People like to watch SpaceX launches - and other launches - because they are cool. Cool sells. And if and when something goes wrong people root for the company to fix the problem so they can see cool things again.

- SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable Flies with Fins (video), earlier post
- ULA Media Blitz, earlier post

Keith's update: Sunday afternon SpaceX sent an email out to some space news media (but not all space news media): "Today's ORBCOMM launch attempt has been scrubbed to address a potential concern identified during pre-flight checks. The vehicle and payload are in good condition, and engineering teams will take the extra time to ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to flight. The rocket will remain vertical on the launch pad with the next available launch opportunity targeting Tuesday, June 24th."

Are You Ready For Liftoff?, Forbes

"Once the ISEE-3 campaign was launched and promoted by Sky Corp and Space Ref Interactive, 2,238 supporters weighed in, raising $160, 000, $35,000 more than the project's goal. The project went from the improbable to the practical, and this is the transition on the forefront of every entrepreneurs mind. How can you do the same? ... Is this the path for you and your company? It could well be if you can meet the market with the thrust of the ISEE-3 campaign. If you can, your charity, reward or equity funding has a good chance of achieving liftoff."

ULA Media Blitz

ULA Ramps up Media Blitz, SpaceRef Business

"In recent weeks United Launch Alliance (ULA) has begun ramping up its media coverage to combat what it considers misrepresentation of facts by SpaceX. At stake is billions in future launch business.

Their website was revamped, new videos were released highlighting mission successes, and posters have been posted to their Facebook page with direct messages aimed squarely at SpaceX though without mentioning them."

Keith's note: ULA had a media briefing for media this week in the Washington area - except ... they did not invite all space media. Hmm ... that's not a strategic move made out of confidence ...

NASA Security: Assessing the Agency's Efforts to Protect Sensitive Information, NASA OIG

"Before highlighting two of the audits and describing the Langley investigation and another special review involving foreign nationals and export issues at the Ames Research Center (Ames) in Mountain View, California, I will highlight several themes from our oversight work that echo findings made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) in their recent examinations of export control practices and management of foreign national access at NASA."

NASA Management Action and Improved Oversight Needed to Reduce the Risk of Unauthorized Access to Its Technologies

"NASA headquarters export control officials and CEAs lack a comprehensive inventory of the types and location of export-controlled technologies and NASA headquarters officials have not addressed deficiencies raised in oversight tools, limiting their ability to take a risk-based approach to compliance. Export compliance guidance from the regulatory agencies of State and Commerce states the importance of identifying controlled items and continuously assessing risks."

Subcommittees Examine NASA's Struggle to Protect Sensitive Information
"These reports confirm our worst fears: that the incidents at Langley and Ames are not isolated incidences. Among conclusions from these reports we find: most centers continue to release Scientific and Technical Information that has not been reviewed for export control purposes. NASA lacks both clear export control policies and the oversight necessary to enforce them. The NASA network has indeed been compromised, and these vulnerabilities could have significant impacts on national security. And finally, a troubling trend we've seen across agencies in this Administration: the failure or the unwillingness to hold accountable those responsible for these errors."

Video: SpaceX Falcon F9R 1000m Flight, SpaceRef Business

"SpaceX has released this video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) during a 1000m test flight at their rocket development facility in McGregor, TX and was their first test that included a set of steerable fins that provide control of the rocket during the fly back portion of return."

NASA Partners With Edison Nation to Promote MindShift Technology, LaRC

"NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is working with Edison Nation, an open innovation online service, to help distribute its discoveries and patents. By law, federal agencies are required to have a technology transfer program to promote commercial activity, economic growth and innovation in business and commerce. Edison Nation will target companies that can immediately license and use NASA technology, beginning with Langley's MindShift."

Keith's note: So ... is this yet another center-specific procurement - one that duplicates what NASA HQ and other centers are doing - or is this a program that is supposed to serve all NASA centers? If this is NASA-wide then why isn't HQ announcing it - and why aren't all of the other NASA centers distributing this news? Langley doesn't even mention it on their Technology Gateway page - nor is there any mention at -- both of which included in this press release. Edison Nation can't be bothered to mention it either. And of course, no mention is made at the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Speaking of disjointed NASA technology transfer activities, why is it that NASA Tech Briefs seems to be utterly uninterested in relaying what NASA is doing? They don't even link to NASA! Why should they be allowed to use the NASA logo?

- Why Does NASA Ignore NASA Tech Briefs?, earlier post, 2011
- Dysfunctional Technology Efforts at Langley (Update), earlier post, 2012

Boeing Preparing Layoff Notices in Case of Commercial Crew Loss, SpaceNews

"Hoping for the best, but preparing for defeat, Boeing will send out about 215 potential layoff notices to employees currently working on its NASA CST-100 Commercial Crew program. The 60-day notices, required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), are due to be distributed on June 20 to about 170 employees in Houston and 45 in Florida in case Boeing is not selected for an upcoming Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, Boeing spokesman Adam Morgan told SpaceNews."

Keith's note: So much for any thought that Boeing was ever interested in investing any significant company funds for their CST-100.

CASIS is Still Inept

Keith's note: The Second ISS Research and Development Conference is underway in Chicago run by the good folks at the AAS with official co-sponsorship by CASIS and NASA. NASA/CASIS funding and meeting requirements drive the show. Indeed, NASA and CASIS use this activity as an official annual showcase to put forward the value of the ISS as a research platform. Given that human spaceflight budgets are getting tighter - and will get even tighter as SLS budget pressures continue to mount - you'd think that NASA - and the non-profit who is supposed to advocate ISS research, CASIS, would be using every tool at their disposal to make this event available to all stakeholders. That includes taxpayers, by the way (they pay for this).

Alas, all we are going to get is Twitter coverage via #issrdc. That's it. No NASA papers and presentations posted online at - and no webcast or streaming audio on NASA TV or elsewhere. Apparently CASIS is incapable of implementing a live webcast of this event. This is a remarkably simple thing to do - all you need is an internet connection and a laptop or cellphone. That's all. Webcasting is free otherwise. Indeed, I have done live webcasts on a laptop from Everest Base Camp, a research base near the north pole, and the middle of the Arizona desert with commercial off the shelf capabilities. Yet CASIS can't figure out how to do a simple webcast from a large hotel? REALLY? As the kids say EPIC FAIL. How NASA expects a wider dissemination - and appreciation of the research capabilities of the ISS is hard to fathom when their official partner for ISS research and utilization CASIS is this chronically inept.

NASA is not exactly helping promote these things either. Go to the NASA ISS National Laboratory website. There is no mention whatsoever of this meeting there.

Keith's update: I stand corrected. This conference is mentioned - but you have to scroll all the way down - further than any website visitor looking fo current information is inclined to scroll. Whomever maintains this website is clueless as to how to maintain web content. You put important timely information where people will see it - easily. This is like putting today's headlines on the last page of a newspaper. Unless this conference is not important, that is. Or (more likely) NASA ISS National Laboratory and CASIS are just cluless and inept when it comes to communicating with the public.

Fading Solid Fuel Engine Biz Threatens Navy's Trident Missile, Breaking Defense

"Failure to launch" isn't a metaphorical concern when you work on nuclear weapons. That's why the director of the Navy's euphemistically named Strategic Systems Program (SSP) is a worried man. What has Vice Adm. Terry Benedict worried is something neither he, nor the Navy nor the entire Defense Department directly control. It's the viability of what Benedict called "an already fragile industry" that produces the solid-fuel rocket boosters for the Navy's Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The worst part is that the solid fuel rocket engine business is an industry that will live or die not on the military's own decisions, but on NASA's.

Airbus Group and Safran To Join Forces in Launcher Activities

Both companies express their determination to continue to play a leading role in the space launcher business as well as to safeguard Europe's autonomous and reliable access to space. This year, ESA and its Member Nations are expected to take far-reaching decisions on current and next generation launchers. "It's all about enhancing the competitiveness of our space launcher business going forward.

NASA is changing the way it does business, new GC says, Washington Post

"NASA is changing the way it is doing business, spending less on traditional contracts and partnering more with the private sector and local governments to further the growth of the commercial space industry. That transition promises to be a prime preoccupation for the agency's new top lawyer, Sumara Thompson-King. Thompson-King became NASA's general counsel on June 1, replacing Michael Wholley, who held the post since 2004. She is the first woman and the first African American to lead the agency's legal department, which has about 175 attorneys."

Made In Space 3D Printer Gets Green Light from NASA for Launch, SpaceRef

"After passing the last NASA test, Made In Space will see its 3D printer launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in August by SpaceX as part of NASA's 4th Commercial Resupply mission (CRS-4).

Originally the 3D printer was scheduled to fly on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission but because the company met all its milestones early the launch was moved up to CRS-4."

Boeing And Lockheed Strike Back Against Elon Musk, Business Insider

The head of Lockheed Martin's space division approached the issue in these stark terms during an interview with the Financial Times today, saying, "The government has a certification process that I think everybody ought to adhere to." But certification isn't quite this straightforward. The Air Force has only ever certified one company to launch its military and spy satellites: ULA. As Keith Cowing, a former NASA astrobiologist and blogger for NASA Watch explained to Business Insider, this very limited experience stacks the certification process against potential newcomers. "ULA has been launching rockets the traditional way since forever and that's the basis on which the Air Force and NASA builds their accreditation," Cowing said. "If someone comes along with a new or possibly better way of launching rockets you have an immediate conflict because the old way of doing things is how the new way is going to be evaluated."

Orbital's Second Cygnus ISS Resupply Flight Postponed - NET July 1

"The new launch schedule reflects the timing of the investigation into the cause of an AJ26 engine failure that occurred in late May at NASA's Stennis Space Center during customary acceptance testing. All other elements of the Orb-2 mission are prepared to move forward, including the Cygnus spacecraft, which is fueled and, except for late-load cargo, is packed with its manifest of ISS cargo."

NASA budget bill could include a poison pill for SpaceX, other commercial companies, Houston Chronicle

"With NASA under the thumb of the Russian space program, Congress continues to play political games with the space agency. On Thursday the U.S. Senate's Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the fiscal year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. This means they agreed upon a spending plan to fund NASA, among other agencies. But buried within the bill could be something of a poison pill for a company like SpaceX. Allow me to explain."

Senate's NASA budget bill may hamper commercial spacecraft makers, Ars Technica

"When asked about the requirement, Shelby argued that it was necessary for transparency. But the whole idea behind adopting a fee-for-service approach to orbit is that it doesn't matter so much what the contractors are paying for their parts--if they offer the cheapest safe ride to orbit, that should be all that matters. Requiring contract pricing-type accounting, as proposed here, could be viewed as an action that unfairly grants advantage to Boeing."

NASA Release Final Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Report

"The report documents the work of NASA's Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office (C3PO) between 2005 and 2013 to partner with private industry to take over more routine operations in low-Earth orbit. This move toward more cooperative engagement with industry partners allowed NASA to focus more on scientific research, technology development and exploration goals."

Proposed NASA plans don't include Space Florida in Volusia, Daytona News Journal

"NASA has unveiled an updated 20-year master plan for its Kennedy Space Center, hoping to expand its facilities and attract new commercial spaceflight, but its plans don't appear to include any mention of Space Florida's proposal to develop a commercial spaceport on NASA-owned land in the southern end of Volusia County. And that is drawing reaction, both from supporters and opponents of Space Florida's plans at Shiloh."

NASA Request for Information: Lease and Development of Kennedy Space Center Land Assets

"This Request for Information (RFI) is intended to solicit responses from the broader spaceport community to enable KSC to continue its transformation into a multi-user spaceport. This transformation is based upon the effective utilization of land assets that have been identified in the 2013-2032 KSC Master Plan."

Atlantic Council Captains of Industry with Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX

"The discussion will focus on the future of American space launch, an issue of critical and timely importance. Last month, Russia threatened to cut-off U.S. supply of the RD-180 engine, revealing just how problematic U.S. reliance on these Russian engines really is. SpaceX offers a wholly-American rocket with an outstanding record of reliability and mission success."

Marc's note: This event will be webcast starting at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Marc's Update: Video: Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX Discusses the Launch Industry , SpaceRef Business.

Will Google Build a Satellite Constellation?, SpaceRef Business

"For months now there have been rumours that Google would be building a constellation of "hundreds" of satellites. To this day we've yet to hear from Google which should tell you something."



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