Commercialization: March 2016 Archives

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.

GAO Report: NASA: Assessments of Major Projects

"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.

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

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Elon Musk: SpaceX Is "Delusional" About Mars, Motley Fool

"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."

- A Pilot Partnership to Find Private Support for Unfunded Applications, NIH

Philanthropist Paul Allen announces $100 million gift to expand 'frontiers of bioscience', Washington Post

"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.

Earlier CASIS posts

Pentagon opens probe of comments by former rocket executive, Yahoo

"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."

Pentagon investigating United Launch Alliance over former executive's SpaceX remarks, The Verge

"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

Orbital ATK's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Launched to ISS

"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."

Video: ULA Atlas V Launches Orbital ATK CRS-6 Mission to the International Space Station

ULA Exec Resigns After Controversial Statements on McCain, Defense News

"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."

ULA exec resigns after saying firm shied away from price war with SpaceX, Reuters

"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."

ULA intends to lower its costs, and raise its cool, to compete with SpaceX, Space News

"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.

ULA executive compares two of the company's business partners to 'two brides', The Verge

"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."


NASA Is Using Virtual Reality at SXSW to Remind People That Its Space Programs Still Exist, AdWeek

"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."

Ars tests NASA's first Vive VR experiments: ISS, lunar rover simulators, Ars Technica

"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?

NASA Technology Programs Looking To Create Economic Development, KRWG

"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
and 5841126.

White Paper Lays Out Steps to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Space

"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.

Ron Garan's Next Adventure Will Be At The Edge of Space, SpaceRef

"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."

Coalition of Space Organizations to Release White Paper: Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space, AIAA

"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."


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