Commercialization: March 2017 Archives

SpaceX Makes History With Reuse of First Stage

"SpaceX made history today with the successful reuse of the the Falcon 9 first stage and then successfully landed that same first stage for future reuse, again."

"The SES-10 satellite is in geostationary transfer orbit"

NASA OIG: NASA's Parts Quality Control Process

"Although NASA has a number of initiatives in place to help ensure the selection of quality parts from reliable suppliers, Centers generally manage their parts quality and supplier assessment data unilaterally rather than collaborating through a comprehensive, integrated, Agency-wide parts and supplier information system. Specifically, the Agency does not maintain a centralized parts quality history database or facilitate the integration of individual Center systems, track all relevant supplier performance history, or enforce requirements that Centers participate in Agency parts quality management systems. Without these control mechanisms, it is more difficult for NASA to mitigate the risk of nonconforming parts entering its project hardware supply chain. ...

... In addition, NASA policy requires project managers to consider risk factors when preparing Program/Project Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans for critical and complex acquisitions. These plans document contractor operations that need Government oversight and the activities, metrics, control mechanisms, and organizations that will conduct quality assurance functions for the project. We found the Agency's current policy does not provide sufficient surveillance and audit planning guidance for project personnel to analyze and select contractor surveillance activities commensurate with the level of risk of nonconforming parts being incorporated into a product."

Commercial Space Launch Insurance: Weakness in FAA's Insurance Calculation May Expose the Federal Government to Excess Risk, GAO

"Because FAA has not yet addressed the identified weakness in the cost-of- casualty amount used in its calculation, the federal government may be exposed to excess risk. FAA has identified potential steps to update the information the cost-of-casualty amount is based on, including seeking public input on whether and how to revise the amount, but the agency does not have a complete plan for updating the cost-of-casualty amount. Federal internal control standards require that agency management respond to risks related to achieving the entity's objectives, define how to achieve objectives, and set time frames for achieving them. FAA has not responded to the risk identified in using outdated data as the basis of the cost-of-casualty amount because FAA has prioritized other work, such as reviewing launch license applications, ahead of this issue."

Northeastern puts NASA's Valkyrie space robots through its paces, TechCrunch (video)

Keith's update: At one point in this video Valkyrie stumbles and requires the cables to catch her - unlike the Boston Dynamics robots that can do just about anything and retain perfect balance and run around, jump, etc. But yes, I said "her". Despite NASA JSC PAO's reversal and subsequent stern denial about this NOT being a female-inspired robot, the robot at Northeastern is referred to by the student in this film as "she" and "her" dozens of times. See "NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses)" Question 7.

This Valkyrie R5 humanoid robot is put to the test with Mars colonization on the horizon, Fox

"NASA reportedly produced three other R5 models. One was held in-house, and NASA "awarded two as research loans to Northeastern University and nearby MIT, while a fourth was acquired by Scotland's University of Edinburgh. According to NASA, in the finalist round, "each team's R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak."

Keith's note: Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of these two college teams to fix NASA's broken Valkyrie R5 robot it cannot walk by itself and needs to be held up by straps. And one R5 will be competing against another R5 - not against other robots. The last time NASA's R5 competed with other agency's droids NASA came in last place. Meanwhile, check out the dancing, hopping, running droids - without tethers - at Boston Dynamics. These commercial products are much more sophisticated - and NASA could buy them - but then what would Ellen Ochoa's JS robotics hobby shop do?

- The Robot NASA Should Buy To Replace Broken Valkyrie, earlier post
- Hey NASA: This Is The Droid You Were Looking For, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- Previous R5 postings

House Science Committee Hearing: The ISS after 2024: Options and Impacts

Mr. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA
Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration"

Keith's 16 March note: Notice that there are only two witnesses. The first witness is NASA's AA for government human space activities. The second witness is the mouthpiece for large aerospace companies who build the big things that the first witness wants to build. No representation whatsoever has been offered to the commercial sector (SpaceX, Blue Origin etc.) that is supposed to be a partner with NASA in the utilization of space.

Maybe Congress is afraid to hear what the private sector is going to do without NASA's help.

Keith's 20 March update: The witness list has been revised to include:

"Mr. Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
Dr. Robert Ferl, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida"

US astronaut's spaceflight to be financed by Russian corporation as debt repayment, TASS

"U.S. astronaut Joseph M. Acaba will fly to the International Space Stations (ISS) as a third crew member of the Soyuz MS-06 spaceship. His flight will be financed by Russia's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia as debt repayment to US' Boeing under the joint project Sea Launch, a source in the Russian space industry told TASS on Monday. ... According to earlier reports, under an amicable agreement reached by Energia and Boeing as part of debt repayment under the Sea Launch project, the Russian corporation will give the American side five seats aboard Soyuz spacecraft, in particular one seat in 2017, one seat in 2018, and an option on three seats in 2019. Energia's debt to Boeing was 330 million US dollars, as was ruled by a California court in 2015. In the summer of 2015, the sides reached an amicable agreement where Energia undertook to repay its debt by means of works and new projects."

NASA Uses Bait and Switch Tactics To Buy Soyuz Seats, earlier post

Keith's note: How sneaky. Neither SpaceX or Boeing are going to have their crew services ready in time to replace Soyuz in the near term. So NASA uses Boeing to buy more Soyuz seats. Its not the first time that they have bought Soyuz seats. But NASA omits mention of the word "Soyuz" in the title of the presolicitation notice. No one will notice, right NASA? But wait - there's more - RSC Energia gave Boeing 5 Soyuz seats to settle a business deal gone sour (Sea Launch) - and Boeing can charge NASA whatever whatever they want for these seats. And if CST-100 flights are delayed further and more Soyuz seats are needed then Boeing can sell extra seats to NASA. Boeing makes money from NASA one way - or the other - unless SpaceX gets into space with their crewed Dragon.

Chairman Smith

"Unfortunately, the Obama administration issued a report last year that called for expansive regulations over all types of private space activities. The Obama administration also requested authority to conduct space traffic management. While the request was a non-starter, it does present an opportunity for Congress to streamline processes and enhance the strength of private sector space activities. For instance, stakeholders continue to raise concerns that they need certainty to attract investments and that they face pressing short-term launch dates and regulatory risks."

Ranking Member Johnson

"The legislative proposal put forth by the previous Administration included direction such that "the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, is authorized to examine the planned and actual operational trajectories of space objects and to advise operators as appropriate to facilitate prevention of collisions." While this proposal is one of a number of potential approaches, it or another measure will be needed to ensure that space remains a productive environment for scientific investigation, commerce, and governmental activities."

Prepared statements

- Chairman Babin
- Ranking Member Bera
- Ms. Laura Montgomery
- Dr. Eli Dourado
- Mr. Douglas L. Loverro
- Mr. Dennis J. Burnett
- Dr. Henry B. Hogue
- More information and archived video

Keith's note: Like everyone else at Satellite 2017 today I was taking pictures with my cellphone. As I left the exhibit hall I wanted to get a nice panoramic image to show the huge audience and large number of exhibitors so that my readers could see how big an event this is. I was at the top of the escalators several hundred feet away from the nearest booth. Just as I started a female security guard loudly ordered me to stop and not to take any pictures. I asked why and she said "no pictures are allowed at this meeting". A moment later a male security guard came over, looked down at my badge and also said rather rudely "no pictures are allowed at this meeting". I replied "Really? Anywhere? Everyone here is taking pictures all over the place". His response "well they are not supposed to".

I went to the conference press office but they seemed to be unaware/uninterested in this new rule or what impact it would have on media coverage. No mention is made in the program of any such rule nor was I ever told not to take pictures. Several exhibitors actually encouraged me to take photos. This strikes me as an especially odd way to get one's message out. The fact that several companies were streaming live video via Periscope and the thousands of people taking selfies seems to escaped the notice of the photo cops at Satellite 2017. There is a lot of really cool stuff at this meeting. I had hoped to go back after lunch and talk at length to several companies and feature their cool stuff. But the rules, as barked at me by conference security, made that pointless since I would not be allowed to take any pictures of the hardware I wanted to feature. So I left.

Blue Origin Announces First Customer for New Glenn Launcher, SpaceRef

"Jeff Bezos has a customer for his New Glenn launch vehicle, Eutelsat, which he announced at Satellite 2017 this morning in Washington, DC. While still years away from operations, Blue Origin has been making steady progress in a step-by-step fashion. It is this stead process 'in the right sequence' that Jeff Bezos views as being most important to his company's success."

Marc's note: At Satellite 2017 this morning Jeff Bezos unveiled a new video introducing the New Glenn rocket which follows in SpaceX's footsteps in returning the first stage for future reuse. Keith is at Satellite 2017 and you can follow his tweets @NASAWatch.

The US intelligence nominee can't believe India just launched 104 satellites, Ars Technica

"During his confirmation hearing this week, the Trump administration's nominee for this cabinet-level [Director of National Intelligence] position, former Senator Dan Coats, assured the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he would remain vigilant in keeping the nation's reconnaissance satellites ahead of the global curve. The United States would also speed up the process by which it gets new technologies into space, he said. However, when citing an example to make this point, Coats pointed toward the launch of the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle earlier this month and its deployment of 104 satellites. "I was shocked the other day to read that the nation of India, on one rocket launch, deposited more than a hundred satellites in space," he said, according to Space News. "They may be small in size with different functions and so forth, but one rocket can send up [more than 100] platforms ... We've seen now 11 nations that have the capacity to launch instruments into space."

Keith's note: As reader MarcNBarrett notes: "I wonder, is he also aware that India has an orbiter around Mars?" -- or that they send a spacecraft to orbit the Moon ...

Don't expect a space race. SpaceX and NASA need each other, LA Times

"The whole idea is that NASA is at the point of a spear," said Howard McCurdy, professor in the school of public affairs at American University. "It's like exploration of any terrestrial realm. This is the way the model is supposed to work." Indeed, the rapid ascent of Musk and other space industry pioneers is validation of the public-private partnership envisioned when Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. By the mid-2000s, NASA was signing contracts with the private sector to fill in for its own funding constraints and the impending retirement of the space shuttle program."

Does SpaceX's moon plan threaten NASA?, Florida Today

"I don't think NASA has anything to be worried about if somebody else can do it 50 years later," said Alan Stern, a former head of NASA science missions. "NASA has much bigger plans and ambitions to explore other worlds with humans than just a figure 8 mission around the moon."

Keith's note: For a commercial entity to mount their own mission around the Moon using their own hardware and finances is quite an unheard of accomplishment. But now that the Commercial Spaceflight Federation under CSF Chairman Alan Stern's leadership has caved in and supported the SLS (which will compete with the commercial heavy lift launch sector) it is obvious that more commentary dismissing commercial space achievements is to be forthcoming from CSF. Contrary to Stern's comments NASA should be worried about this SpaceX mission.

NASA currently does not have - nor has it had - the ability to send humans around the Moon for nearly half a century. Even if SpaceX's Moon mission slips a few years it is still likely that they will beat NASA back to the Moon - for a fraction of what it will cost NASA to do so - even if you add every single cent NASA has ever given SpaceX for everything it has ever done. Moreover SpaceX has an assembly line that can churn out and launch these Moon rockets at a rate and cost that NASA will never be able to match. Oh yes. ULA and Blue Origin are not exactly sitting on their hands either.

Oddly, CSF sends its chairman out to diminish this capability rather than to openly praise it.

- What's With All The Commercial Space News?, earlier post
- Alternative Facts And Snake Oil From The SLS Mafia, earlier post
- Commercial Spaceflight Federation Sells Out and Endorses SLS (Update), earlier post

Keith's note: A lot of people in the private space sector are annoyed (some are angry) with the Trump folks since they directed NASA to look into the government side (crew on SLS EM-1 flight) of a proposed government/commercial return to the Moon. Then the "Commercial" Spaceflight Federation sold its soul and jumped on board to support SLS. There was a handshake sort of deal in place between the Alabama mafia and the commercial space folks. Apparently that deal fell through.

Suddenly Elon Musk announces his trip to the Moon. Then Virgin Galactic reveals a major restructuring and expansion of its launch plans. Then Robert Bigelow starts talking about his lunar plans. And then someone at Jeff Bezo's Blue Origin leaks something to Jeff Bezos' Washington Post about Jeff Bezos' new Amazon-delivery-to-the-Moon service. Was all of this done (in part) out of annoyance with Trump's people (probably just a little) - or is this finally the break-out in commercial space that so many people have been hoping for?

Regardless of the motivation(s) or timing, a lot of very interesting and important things just happened in commercial space. Too bad their trade group, CSF, has sold out to the Dark Side.

"Handle is a research robot that stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4​feet vertically. It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. ​Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles​found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds."

Virgin Galactic Announces New Commercial Space Company Virgin Orbit

"Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are pleased to announce Virgin Orbit, a new commercial space company, and the appointment of Dan Hart as the first President of the newly created company. Virgin Orbit will offer flexible, routine and low cost launch services for small satellites via the LauncherOne system. Virgin Orbit's activities were previously conducted as a division of Virgin Galactic."



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