Commercialization: September 2016 Archives

Congress members question whether SpaceX should conduct its own investigation, LA Times

"The letter, dated Thursday, also cited SpaceX's prior explosion in June 2015 while carrying cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne space company led its own investigation for that launch failure. Under federal law, SpaceX is allowed to conduct its own investigation. SpaceX ... and other companies lobbied successfully to extend the law last year. The FAA oversees such investigations. The Congress members said the investigation responses raised "serious concerns about the authority provided to commercial providers and the protection of national space assets."

"Ten Republican Congress members led by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have sent a letter to the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration questioning whether SpaceX should be allowed to lead its own investigation ... Coffman's congressional district includes United Launch Alliance's headquarters. Many of the congressmen represent states where ULA has operations."

Keith's note: But wait. ULA did their own internal review when the first stage of the Atlas V delivering OA-6 Cygnus shut down early. Oops. H/t to Tim B.

United Launch Alliance Provides Update to OA-6 Cygnus Launch

"Per standard processes when a flight data item such as this has been identified, the ULA engineering team, along with our engine supplier and several government customers, forms a robust review team. The review team assessed all flight and operational data to determine direct and root causes and implemented the appropriate corrective actions for future flights. .. "We would like to thank our customers and supplier partners for their outstanding collaboration in the detailed review of this anomaly."

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

Elon Musk Outlines his Plan for Colonizing Mars and Why We Should Do It, SpaceRef [Includes the full video of Elon Musk's talk and the presentation slides.]

"In a presentation today at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk outlined his ambitious plan to colonize Mars. His personal motivation is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. The reason is to avoid an extinct level event on Earth that would wipe out humanity.

To achieve a self-sustaining society you'll need to send 1 million people to Mars which could take 40-100 years. To get those people there Musk introduced the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System. The rocket, the largest ever built, could carry 100 plus people per flight and would need 10,000 flights to carry those million people. Musk hopes to be able to eventually carry 200 people per flight which would reduce the number of flights needed."

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

Raptor Roars

SpaceX AMOS-6 Anomaly Update 23 September 2016, SpaceX

"At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

"... Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe."

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"Now available is the September 21, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers was Philip McAlister (NASA HQ) who discussed "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA to have limited role in SpaceX's planned Mars campaign, Spaceflight Now

"Expertise, input and advice from seasoned NASA engineers will improve SpaceX's chances of nailing the first commercial landing on Mars as soon as late 2018, a senior space agency official said Wednesday, but Elon Musk's space transport company will likely seek more independence from U.S. government support on later expeditions to the red planet."

Programming note: SpaceRef will broadcast live Elon Musk's presentation, Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, from the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara next week on Tuesday, September 27 at 2:30 pm ET.

Marc's note: We certainly live in a new age of exploration when a private space company is embarking on a mission that no government has yet to undertake.

That mission, to send an uncrewed technology demonstration human spacecraft mission to land on Mars has never been attempted. And make no mistake this is not the spacecraft that SpaceX would send to Mars with humans. It's a technology demonstration. The data collected by this mission will be invaluable to future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere.

NASA FISO Telecon: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, September 21, when we will host Philip McAlister (NASA HQ), who will speak on "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission."

Keith's note: Elon Musk is getting ready for his big Mars colonization plan presentation at the IAC next week. The first step in this path to Mars is the Dragon mission that SpaceX is planning to send to Mars in 2018. You'd think that NASA would want people to know how it is involved in all of this. Indeed, NASA's Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development Phil McAlister is making a presentation at this week's NASA FISO telecon. Yet no mention is made of this presentation on NASA's calendar, Journey To Mars page, NASA's Commercial Space Transportation page, or anywhere else at

Why is NASA hiding this briefing? Is NASA afraid to be seen supporting a competing plan for the #JourneyToMars ?

ILS Offers Proton Variants For Smaller Payloads, ILS

"International Launch Services (ILS) announces a product line extension of the Proton Breeze M commercial launch vehicle designed to expand the addressable GEO market for cost effective launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons). Designated as "Proton Variants," these two additional vehicles will be optimized 2-stage versions of the time tested and flight proven Proton Breeze M launch system for exclusive commercial use by ILS."

Falcon Heavy? New Glenn? NASA chief says he's not a "big fan", Ars Technica

"On Tuesday, during a Q&A session at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2016 Conference, Bolden was asked for his opinion on the emerging market for small satellites and launchers. He chose to respond instead with his thoughts on NASA's own rocket, the Space Launch System, and private-sector development of larger launch vehicles. "If you talk about launch vehicles, we believe our responsibility to the nation is to take care of things that normal people cannot do, or don't want to do, like large launch vehicles," Bolden said. "I'm not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles just yet."

Keith's update: Hey Charlie, normal people seem to be building rockets at a much lower cost than NASA people can. Just sayin'.

As for "commercial investment in large vehicles", newsflash: that's not your money they are investing. Its theirs. Ask Steve Jurvetson, that guy you spoke with at AIAA today. As for your comment about "normal people" (who are they, BTW?) and their inability to build rockets is contrary to the open access, inclusive, Maker-oriented, commercial space policy advocated by the Obama Administration.

You are retiring from NASA soon, yes?

Marc's note: There are a couple of noteworthy commercial launch news items today.

ILS is introducing an expanded Proton line in an effort to capture part of the small to medium satellite market. ULA meanwhile is offering launch to customers within as little three months of booking an order. No pricing was provided for either of these news items.

ILS Introduces Expanded Proton Line of Cost-Effective Launch Vehicles

"International Launch Services (ILS) announces a product line extension of the Proton Breeze M commercial launch vehicle designed to expand the addressable GEO market for cost effective launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons).

Designated as "Proton Variants," these two additional vehicles will be optimized 2-stage versions of the time tested and flight proven Proton Breeze M launch system for exclusive commercial use by ILS."

United Launch Alliance Announces RapidLaunch™, the Industry's Fastest Order to Launch Service

"United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced a new, revolutionary service called RapidLaunch™ which provides the customer the fastest schedule from the initial order to launch service in the industry today.

"The priorities of all of our customers include ensuring their spacecraft launches on schedule, securing the soonest possible manifest date and completing the mission with 100 percent success," said Tory Bruno, ULA CEO and president. "To address these priorities, we have been working on this offering for more than a year, which allows our customers to launch in as few as three months from placing their order."

Video: AIAA Space 2016 Opening Plenary Featuring Charles Bolden, Winston Beauchamp and Steve Jurvetson

"Today the annual AIAA Space 2016 conference began with an opening plenary that included presentations by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Winston A. Beauchamp, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space, and the Director, Principal DoD Space Advisor Staff, and Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, DFJ. This was followed by a panel with the opening speakers.

The addition of Jurvetson, of the venture firm DFJ, added a nice mix to the conversation including reinforcing the fact that venture firms no longer ignore space companies as possible investment opportunities."

Blue Origin Announces Immense "New Glenn" Rocket

"Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen, these are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan rocket. The 2-stage New Glenn is 270 feet tall, and its second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine. The 3-stage New Glenn is 313 feet tall. A single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. The booster and the second stage are identical in both variants."

Mars Rover Views Spectacular Layered Rock Formations

"Curiosity took the images with its Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sept. 8. The rover team plans to assemble several large, color mosaics from the multitude of images taken at this location in the near future. "Curiosity's science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. The Martian buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed."

Keith's note: Boston Dynamics has robots that can do things that NASA's R5 and Robonaut are simply incapable of doing. Yet NASA continues to pour money into their antiquated in-house hobby shop efforts when the private sector would happily sell them vastly more capable devices - devices that constantly improve. Look at the Mars Curiosity images that NASA featured today. They were taken by a rover with a limited ability to traverse terrain. A robot like the ones that Boston Dynamics makes could scramble up these scree slopes with a rock hammer and get samples. NASA's broken R5 robot can't even walk without a hoist to keep it upright.

- NASA Challenges People To Use Its Broken Robot To Fix Things on Mars, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- Earlier posts

Satellite owner says SpaceX owes $50 million or free flight, Reuters

"Israel's Space Communication Ltd said on Sunday it could seek $50 million or a free flight from Elon Musk's SpaceX after a Spacecom communications satellite was destroyed last week by an explosion at SpaceX's Florida launch site. Officials of the Israeli company said in a conference call with reporters Sunday that Spacecom also could collect $205 million from Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the AMOS-6 satellite. SpaceX said in an email to Reuters that it does not disclose contract or insurance terms. The company is not public, and it has not said what insurance it had for the rocket or to cover launch pad damages beyond what was required by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial U.S. launches, for liability and damage to government property."

SpaceCom to recoup $173m, plus interest, for destroyed satellite, Times of Israel

"The satellite's owners, Space Communication, will receive over $173 million from IAI plus interest, which provided insurance for the device, a company official said. According to Space Communication, also known as SpaceCom, the total sum from IAI is "approximately $205 million." Under the insurance policy, IAI will have to pay the amount "in under 60 days," a spokesperson for the quasi-governmental firm said. In addition, the Israeli company said it expects to receive either $50 million from SpaceX or "have the launch of a future satellite carried out under the existing agreement and with the payments that have [already] been made."

SpaceX to shift Florida launches to new pad after explosion, Reuters

"With its launch pad likely facing major repairs, SpaceX said it would use a second Florida site, called 39A, which is located a few miles north at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and was used for space shuttle missions. The pad is on schedule to be operational in November, SpaceX said. The company had planned to use the pad for the first time later this year for a test flight of its new Falcon Heavy rocket. NASA spokesman Michael Curie said in an email that the site could be used for commercial and government flights, and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a May conference said one customer, SES SA of Luxembourg, had expressed interest in flying from the historic launch pad."

Op-ed: We love you SpaceX, and hope you reach Mars. But we need you to focus, Ars Technica

"I understand SpaceX has a master plan--the company wants to colonize Mars. It has been brilliant to watch the plan unfold as SpaceX has used NASA contracts to bootstrap up to the Falcon 9 rocket and used Falcon 9 flights to simultaneously test reusability and supersonic retropropulsion for the Martian environment. I mean, it's genius. But at some point you have to focus on the here and now, and that is the Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 rocket lies at the core of everything SpaceX wants to do. It delivers commercial satellites and cargo. It will deliver astronauts into orbit. Three Falcon 9 boosters will power the Falcon Heavy. It is the basis of proving the reusability of orbital launch systems. So if there is no Falcon 9, there is no business. And now there have been two failures in 15 months. While the cause of the second failure is not known to outsiders, and it may have been caused by ground systems rather than the rocket itself, the company has nonetheless lost two of its rockets and associated payloads in 15 months. That is sobering."

Video by

Marc's update: Friday evening SpaceX provided an update on the explosion at their Cape Canaveral SLC-40 launch pad. My interpretation of the statement leads me to think that as long as the investigation reveals no issues related to the Falcon 9 itself, that SpaceX intends on going forward with launches from their two other pads at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy.

SpaceX Anomaly Statement September 2, 6:45pm EDT

"As for the Launch Pad itself, our teams are now investigating the status of SLC-40. The pad clearly incurred damage, but the scope has yet to be fully determined. We will share more data as it becomes available. SpaceX currently operates 3 launch pads - 2 in Florida and 1 in California at Vandenberg Air Force Base. SpaceX's other launch sites were not affected by yesterday's events. Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base is in the final stages of an operational upgrade and Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center remains on schedule to be operational in November. Both pads are capable of supporting Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. We are confident the two launch pads can support our return to flight and fulfill our upcoming manifest needs."

SpaceX and Boeing delays could mean more money for Russia, NASA watchdog says, Washington Post

"Boeing has already said it would have to push back its first crewed flights to early 2018. SpaceX has maintained that it would fly by the end of 2017. But the IG investigators weren't buying either of those timetables: "Notwithstanding the contractors' optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018."

Commercial crew now delayed until at least 2018, report finds, Ars Technica

"Sources at Johnson Space Center, which plays a secondary role in managing the commercial crew program to Kennedy Space Center, have privately told Ars for months that neither Boeing nor SpaceX would fly in 2017. Moreover, these sources have said, it will be fortunate if either company launches test flights, with crew, during the second half of 2018. The key factor to watch now is whether NASA procures additional seats from the Russians to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019 and beyond."

NASA OIG: NASA'S Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts

"Moreover, both companies must satisfy NASA's safety review process to ensure they meet Agency human-rating requirements. As part of the certification process, Boeing and SpaceX conduct safety reviews and report to NASA on potential hazards and their plans for mitigating risks. We found significant delays in NASA's evaluation and approval of these hazard reports and related requests for variances from NASA requirements that increase the risk costly redesign work may be required late in development, which could further delay certification. Although NASA's goal is to complete its review within 8 weeks of receipt of a hazard report, the contractors told us reviews can take as long as 6 months. We also found NASA does not monitor the overall timeliness of its safety review process. Given delays in the Commercial Crew Program, NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million or $82 million a seat for six more seats. If the Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

The Future of the International Space Station Is Up to a Weird Little Florida Nonprofit, Wired

"Which brings us to March, when the NASA Advisory Council released a memo that included this: The Council has also been told by NASA that a successful transition from the "Earth Reliant" phase to the "Proving Ground" is dependent at least in part on the success of attracting future commercial users of the ISS and/or the availability of commercial LEO laboratory capability that NASA could use. The Council therefore feels that it would be beneficial for the agency to better understand the effect that the resources being devoted to the ISS National Laboratory might have on the important research needed to reduce technology and human health risk for the Journey to Mars."

Ken Shields, director of operations for Casis, takes issue with the assessment. "This is one man's opinion, but there were a few vociferous members of NAC who didn't do a lot of due diligence on what we do, our history," he says. "They read some news stories, brought some gotcha information, and I wish I had been there in person."

Keith's note: This is strange. With regard to this NASA Advisory Council meeting on 31 March/1 April 2016 CASIS employees Greg Johnson, Michael Roberts, and Brian Talbot from CASIS were physically in attendance. In addition, CASIS employees Ken Shields, Warren Bates, Patrick O'Neill, and Cindy Martin Brennan attended via dial-in. So Ken Shields should have heard the entire conversation, right? He could have sent a text to his boss and asked to say something if his ears were burning. NASA Advisory Council meetings are open to the public, available for free via dial-in and Webex. The words Shields takes issue with were blessed by the entire NAC.

At this meeting the NAC decided that a team should make a site visit to CASIS to look into these issues. Shortly thereafter the NAC chair, Steve Squyres resigned and NAC leadership was thrown into disarray. CASIS objected to the whole idea of a NAC site visit. During the leadership vacuum CASIS, NASA, and a sympathetic NAC member made certain that site the visit and further consideration of NAC were buried. It is quite clear that CASIS is afraid of external scrutiny and does not think that it should be help publicly accountable for what it does with $15 million of NASA money every year.

CASIS Had A Bad Week In Washington, earlier post, earlier post

"The next day the CASIS entourage, led by President and Executive Director Greg Johnson, showed up at the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting. Things did not go so well for them at the NAC. Within minutes of starting to talk, NAC members started to pepper Johnson with questions- questions that he was unable and/or unwilling to answer. It went downhill from there."

A Closer Look At The CASIS "Space Is In It" Endorsement, earlier post

"On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. One of the issues Scimemi raised had to do with how CASIS hypes/promotes the research that it takes credit for having facilitated onboard the ISS. "

Letter From NASA to CASIS 31 March 2016, earlier post

"We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab.



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

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