Commercialization: August 2015 Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAA hid study showing chronic air controller fatigue, CBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Notifies Congress about Space Station Contract Modification with Russia

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

NASA signing $490M contract with Russia, The Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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