Commercialization: May 2016 Archives

Orbital ATK Conducts Test of Antares First Stage (with video)

"Orbital ATK today announced it conducted a full-power "hot fire" test of the upgraded first stage propulsion system of its Antares medium-class rocket using new RD-181 main engines. The 30-second test took place at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) on May 31, 2016 at Virginia Space's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A. Initial indications are that the test was fully successful. The Antares engineering team will review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met. Assuming the success of the test is confirmed, it will clear the way for the resumption of Orbital ATK's cargo logistics missions to the International Space Station (ISS) from Wallops Island, Virginia, currently scheduled for July."

Kennedy's vision for NASA inspired greatness, then stagnation, Ars Technica

"Perhaps the best insight into Kennedy's motives can be found in a recording of a November 21, 1962 meeting in the White House Cabinet Room. Kennedy had boasted of the lunar plan just a month earlier at Rice. The main participants that day were Kennedy and James Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At issue was the true purpose of NASA and the Apollo program, and at the outset of the meeting Kennedy asked Webb, "Do you think this program is the top priority of the agency?" In hindsight, Webb's answer was surprising: "No sir, I do not. I think it is one of the top priority programs, but I think it is very important to recognize here, that as you have found out what you could do with a rocket, as you find out how you could get out beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into space to make measurements, several scientific disciplines that are very powerful have (begun) to converge on this area." To this Kennedy responds that Apollo is the top priority. That ought to be very clear, he explained. "This is important for political reasons, for international political reasons," Kennedy said. He told Webb he did not want to finish second to the Soviets in the "race" to the moon."

Keith's note: In other words had there been Twitter in 1960s we'd have heard nothing but #ManOnTheMoon on everything NASA PAO put out. In the case of Apollo in the 1960s NASA had a firm presidential mandate and a specific architecture in place in relatively short order - on a timeline what almost fit into a two-term Kennedy Administration. Flash forward: NASA is in no hurry to explain how it is going to send humans to Mars by a date that requires constant unwavering support from 4 to 5 presidential administrations - and a dozen Congresses. Most importantly, NASA now lacks that compelling reason to amass the requisite blood and treasure needed to mount an interplanetary project of geopolitical importance - because we're now competing with everyone (internally and externally) - each of whom is on their own timetable - each for their own purposes. Add in a lame duck Administration which has been disinterested - at best - for the past 7 years. Anyone with a reasonable grasp of history and current politics would be wise to ponder whether NASA and the U.S. government are no even capable of supporting a human missions to Mars in the ways needed for it to actually happen.

Its time to stop listening to the old professors, reading old advisory reports, and trying to find old historical resonances to justify or inspire future efforts. The world is as it is. Other nations are now starting to do interesting things in space because they see that it confers importance upon their nation, inspires their people, and offers access to new technologies. They also have their own reasons that have little resonance with America's. They learned both from our mistakes and successes and are now filling the vacuum created by our hesitance and lack of interest.

Others are seizing upon the opportunities presented by this American space malaise as well - and they are firmly established on American shores. The motivations may echo NASA's interests but they include many things that would not fit well on a NASA Powerpoint chart. Lets watch as SpaceX sends technology to Mars that NASA is incapable and/or unwilling of doing. There may well be an American #JourneyToMars - but mission control may be in Hawthorne - not Houston. And will the Americans who step out of a future human-rated Red Dragon be any less American?

Bigelow Module Fails First Expansion Attempt

"NASA is working closely with Bigelow Aerospace to understand why its module did not fully expand today as planned. Engineers are meeting at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss a path forward for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)."

Packing for space flattened NASA's Space Hotel, New Scientist

"The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was installed on the space station on 16 April and was supposed to be inflated on Thursday. But like a stubborn air mattress that stays flat, folds in the soft fabric kept it from expanding even as astronaut Jeff Williams tried to pump in air. In a 27 May teleconference, representatives from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace discussed what went wrong. "We went through a sequence, stepping up the pressure," said NASA's Jason Crusan. After some initial growth, the habitat stopped expanding even as pressure built up. "We ran into higher forces than our models predicted," he said."

miniPCR announces first DNA amplification in space

"miniPCR announced the first successful DNA amplification on the International Space Station (ISS). Using a miniPCR thermal cycler, astronauts performed Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) on DNA samples on April 19th. Analysis performed today on Earth confirms that DNA amplification done in microgravity was successful, ushering in a new era in space exploration."

miniPCR, GenesInSpace

Keith's note: This is really cool news. But does CASIS make any mention of this major accomplishment on their website or @ISS_CASIS? Of course not.

Senate Schism on Russian Rocket Engines Continues, Space Policy Online

"The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today. Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue. The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday."

As rocket wars wage in DC, a cautious move towards competition makes sense

"To ULA's credit, the company has successfully launched over 100 rockets without incident. But they've also been given vast resources to do so. For example, McCain refers to ULA's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch capability contract as "$800 million to do nothing." That's not exactly fair since the contract gives the Air Force tremendous launch flexibility, but $800 million a year to effectively be ready to launch seems tremendously generous."

SpaceX is about to attempt another extremely difficult landing, Business Insider

"SpaceX will once again attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic. SpaceX's track record for launches has been nearly flawless this year, with four successful launches and three successful landings (and retrievals!) of the first stage of the rockets. One of those successes took place on land in December; two more happened in April and May at sea. SpaceX will once again attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic."




Space Subcommittee Hearing - Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats

"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."

- Statement, Jason Crusan, NASA
- Statement, John Elbon, Boeing
- Statement, Wanda Sigur, Lockheed Martin
-Statement, Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK
-Statement, Andy Weir, Author, The Martian

NASA to pay Russia $88 mln to deliver astronauts to world's sole orbiter in 2018-2019, TASS

"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.

NAS Report: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) at NASA

"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."

How Elon Musk exposed billions in questionable Pentagon spending, Politico

"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."

- ULA Begs Congress To Let Them Kill Delta Rockets, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

Boeing falls behind SpaceX in next space race, CNN Money

"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."

Boeing's Starliner schedule for sending astronauts into orbit slips to 2018, GeekWire

"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.

Musk Sleeps Near Factory Floor to Spur Tesla Manufacturing, Bloomberg

"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."

Larger image

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."

Letter from OSTP Director Holdren to Rep. Thune and Rep. Smith Re: U.S Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, OSTP (PDF)

"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.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"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."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Commercialization category from May 2016.

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