Commercialization: January 2018 Archives

Elon Musk is set to launch his Falcon Heavy rocket, a flamethrower of another sort, Washington Post

"It could also play a part in the Trump administration's plans to return to the moon. Over the weekend, Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence's chief of staff, tweeted that the rocket would have "major (positive) ramifications for US space industry if this goes according to plan." SpaceX has said that the Falcon Heavy would cost $90 million a launch, a fraction of what NASA's more powerful Space Launch System would cost. Last year, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the SLS rocket would cost about $1 billion per launch. With such a vast difference in price, some have wondered if the Falcon Heavy obviates the need for SLS. "If the SpaceX model works, it creates direct competition to SLS," said Howard McCurdy, a professor of public affairs at American University."

What Trump Gets Right About NASA, Space Exploration, Eric Stallmer, CSF

"Today, a new generation of commercial space companies is taking the lead on space exploration and aerospace innovation. ... Other firms are developing commercial spacecraft systems to reach the moon and asteroids, land on the surface of other planets and preparing to deploy commercial habitats in space. Despite this progress, some inside the space community remain nostalgic about the government owning and controlling space assets. Late last year at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space annual conference, for instance, then-NASA administrator Charlie Bolden told audience members that he "is not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles. ... The alternative, which lawmakers need to begin insisting on? Firm, fixed price contracts. Under this model, which works best with privately owned space hardware, taxpayers shoulder far less risk - and companies are incentivized to complete projects on time and under budget."

Search For Zuma Unearths Lost NASA Satellite, Aviation Week (Paywall)

"An amateur astronomer on the hunt for the classified Zuma satellite has discovered a long-lost NASA science satellite. "Over the past week. the station has been dedicated to an S-band scan looking for new targets and refreshing the frequency list, triggered by the recent launch of the mysterious Zuma mission," amateur visual and radio astronomer Scott Tilley wrote on his blog skyriddles.wordpress.com." ... Tilley set to work to identify the signal and soon revealed the source: a NASA science satellite known as IMAGE, which disappeared from radar tracking on Dec. 18, 2005.

January 26, 2018 - NASA Confirms IMAGE is indeed alive!, Scott Tilley

"Over the past week the station has been dedicated to an S-band scan looking for new targets and refreshing the frequency list, triggered by the recent launch of the mysterious ZUMA mission. This tends to be a semi-annual activity as it can eat up a lot of observing resources even with much of the data gathering automated the data reviewing is tedious. Upon reviewing the data from January 20, 2018, I noticed a curve consistent with an satellite in High Earth Orbit (HEO) on 2275.905MHz, darn not ZUMA... This is not uncommon during these searches. So I set to work to identify the source. A quick identity scan using 'strf' (sat tools rf) revealed the signal to come from 2000-017A, 26113, called IMAGE."

Keith's note: Meanwhile former Trump Transition Team member Charles Miller can barely contain his enthusiasm for this "leadership" which involves abandoning ISS - all with another Transtion Team member's (Greg Autry) approval. Meanwhile other Trump advisors tell say that such a plan to prematurely abandon support for ISS is exactly the opposite advice that they have been giving the Administration at the highest levels with regard to encouraging the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit.

NASA FY 2019 Budget Hints: ISS Lifespan To Be Limited (Update), earlier post

Keith's update: I engaged in a Twitter exchange via @NASAWatch with @GregWAutry. Try as I did, I could not get this Trump Transition Team member to answer a simple question about the defunding of ISS after 2025.

Sierra Nevada Corporation Signs Two NextSTEP-2 Contracts with NASA


Sierra Nevada Corporation Signs Two NextSTEP-2 Contracts with NASA, Sierra Nevada Corporation

"Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has formalized its agreement with NASA under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2), signing a contract to design and develop a prototype for a deep space habitat. The formal signing of the contract under NextSTEP Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A: Habitat Systems, aimed at enabling potential long-duration human missions in deep space, clears the way for actual production of SNC's prototype in the coming months."

Falcon Heavy Roars To Life

Rocket Lab successfully circularizes orbit with new Electron kick stage, Rocket Lab

"Rocket Lab, a US aerospace company with operations in New Zealand, has successfully tested a previously unannounced kick stage on the Still Testing Electron launch vehicle, using it to circularize the orbits of the two Spire Lemur-2 CubeSats on board. The kick stage was flown and tested on board the recent Still Testing flight that was successfully launched on 21 January 2018 NZDT from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The complex mission was a success, with the new apogee kick stage coasting in orbit for around 40 minutes before powering up and igniting Rocket Lab's new restartable liquid propulsion engine called Curie, then shutting down and deploying payloads. With the new kick stage Rocket Lab can execute multiple burns to place numerous payloads into different orbits."

SpaceX gets good news from the Air Force on the Zuma mission, Ars Technica

"A little more than two weeks have passed since the apparent loss of the highly classified Zuma mission. Since then, SpaceX has publicly and privately stated that its Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally throughout the flight--with both its first and second stages firing as anticipated. Now, the US Air Force seems to be backing the rocket company up. "Based on the data available, our team did not identify any information that would change SpaceX's Falcon 9 certification status," Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told Bloomberg News. This qualified conclusion came after a preliminary review of data from the Zuma launch. That's according to Thompson, who said the Air Force will continue to review data from all launches."

SpaceX Can't Test Falcon Heavy During U.S. Government Shutdown, Newsweek

"A statement from the 45th Space Wing read: "Due to the shutdown removing key members of the civilian workforce, the 45th Space Wing will not be able to support commercial static fires taking place on KSC. Without our civilian workforce, the 45th SW is unable to support launch operations as well." The 45th Space Wing is a department of the Air Force supporting space missions. The Verge reported that it was initially unclear if the static test could take place without the 45th's support, or if the test will be on hold until civilian staff are no longer restricted. Today, however, SpaceX confirmed the launch will halt the static fire. "This shutdown impacts SpaceX's Falcon Heavy demonstration, which is critical for future [national security space] missions," John Taylor, a SpaceX spokesperson, said in a statement to The Verge."

Rocketlab Places Three Satellites Into Orbit (with video), SpaceRef

"Rocketlab conducted its second Electron launch today placing three cubesats into orbit. The launch occurred from the remote Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand. Mission control is located in Auckland, New Zealand. On board was a Planetlab cubesat named Dove Pioneer which will conduct Earth resource imaging and two Lemur-2 cubesats for Spire which will be used for weather and ship tracking. In all of its social media postings the company used #stilltesting tag to denote the fact that these initial launches still involve significant testing and proof-of-concept studies."

Commercial Crew Hearing

Hearing: Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

"10 a.m. EST, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a Subcommittee on Space hearing titled An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of NASA's two commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station."

- Watch live
- Hearing charter

Prepared statements:

- Cristina Chaplain (GAO)

"Both Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) are making progress toward their goal of being able to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). However, both continue to experience schedule delays. Such delays could jeopardize the ability of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Commercial Crew Program to certify either company's option--that is, to ensure that either option meets NASA standards for human spaceflight--before the seats the agency has contracted for on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft run out in 2019."

- Patricia Sanders (ASAP)
- Hans Koenigsmann (SpaceX)
- John Mulholland (Boeing)
- William Gerstenmaier (NASA)
- Rep. Smith
- Rep. Babin
- Rep. Bera
- Rep. Johnson

GAO: Commercial Space Launch Insurance: FAA Needs to Fully Address Mandated Requirements

"The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) report evaluating its maximum probable loss (MPL) methodology did not fully address the evaluation and consultation requirements specified by the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA). FAA officials said they have not been able to take the actions needed to fully satisfy the mandated elements because of issues such as resource limitations and the lack of available data. However, by not resolving these issues, FAA lacks assurance that launch companies are not purchasing more insurance than needed or that the federal government is not being exposed to greater indemnification costs than expected."

Zuma Non-Update Update

Lost in space? Questions mount over fate of secret satellite as SpaceX pushes ahead, Washington Post

"U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who said he received a "preliminary briefing," had two concerns about the possible loss of the satellite. "One is the loss of the intelligence that would have been available," he said. "The second concern is the reliability of the delivery systems. And that issue is being debated between the contractors, SpaceX and the satellite manufacturer, Northrop." While he said he did not know who was to blame, he indicated that the dispute might lead to litigation. "Those two companies are going to have a long and, I suspect, very expensive discussion," he said."

After Zuma, SpaceX keeps pace in preps for next Falcon 9 launch, SpaceflightNow

"A network of amateur satellite trackers are on the lookout for Zuma in case it is still in orbit, but they are working off an estimate of its expected location, and it could take weeks to find the spacecraft, assuming it is still in space and is orbiting where predicted."

Pentagon: Ask SpaceX about Zuma. SpaceX: That's not our story to tell, Ars Technica

"Sources familiar with discussions behind closed doors have told Ars there are two primary working theories about what may have gone wrong with Zuma and caused it to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. One idea, in contradiction to SpaceX's official statements, is that the rocket's upper stage underperformed and caused the problem. However, at this time, it seems more likely that the mechanism built by Northrop Grumman to release the satellite failed to operate properly."

NASA's Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates, NASA

"Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018"

Hearing : Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

"January 17 2018, at 10 a.m. EST, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a Subcommittee on Space hearing titled An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of NASA's two commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station."

GAO Reports Significant Delays in Commercial Crew Launch Dates (Update), earlier post (2017)

"At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, [Gwynne Shotwell] said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."

CASIS and Marvel Entertainment Unveil Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Marvel Entertainment today announced the Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge is open for American students ages 13-18 to submit microgravity flight experiment concepts that could be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. The contest focuses on Rocket and Groot, characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book franchise, and students are encouraged to develop flight proposals based on the attributes of these Super Heroes. The contest will run through January 31, 2018."

- CASIS and NASA Ignore Each Other at #ComicCon2016 Over A Raccoon and Groot
- CASIS Has A New Patch: May The Farce Be With You

OIG: NASA's Management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)

"In addition, we found NASA failed to actively oversee CASIS's technical performance and instead took a largely "hands-off" approach to managing CASIS that has contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. For example, NASA has not developed an overall strategy identifying the achievements or outcomes expected from CASIS through the end of its cooperative agreement nor has the Agency provided guidance or set expectations for CASIS's performance."

Keith's note: Once again CASIS takes the comic book approach to its outreach efforts for NASA's portion of the International Space Station. But in the press release they issued, yet again, the word "NASA" appears nowhere. No mention is made by @NASA or @NASAedu Twitter accounts. No mention is made on the NASA ISS home page or the NASA Education home page. When you ask NASA or CASIS for metrics as to how well this comic book character approach works they cannot provide that information. If you doubt my observations, just read the newly released report on CASIS by the NASA OIG.

- NASA OIG Flunks CASIS - And NASA's Management of CASIS
- Prior Posts on CASIS

OIG: NASA's Management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)

"Although CASIS awarded $21.7 million in grants to 140 projects between fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2016, the organization has underperformed on tasks important to achieving NASA's goal of building a commercial space economy in low Earth orbit. From 2011 through 2014, CASIS concentrated on standing up its organization and filling leadership positions. Consequently, after more than 5 years of operation CASIS has not fully met a majority of the goals and expectations set out by NASA. Of the nine performance categories we assessed, CASIS met expectations in only two: research pathways and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. For example, the STEM education performance category required CASIS to increase interest in using the National Lab as a platform for STEM education. CASIS met expectations for this performance category by funding 14 STEM education programs in FY 2016 with more than 325,000 participants.

For five of the remaining seven performance categories - grant awards and project portfolio, recruitment of National Lab users, matching research projects and investors, Implementation Partners, and fundraising - CASIS only partially met expectations. For example, in the grant awards and project portfolio performance category, CASIS awarded more than $3 million annually in research grants between FYs 2013 and 2016 but failed to ensure a balanced portfolio of research projects from theoretical to basic to applied research as required by the cooperative agreement. CASIS failed to meet expectations in the remaining two categories: utilization of crew time for National Lab research and outreach. With respect to crew utilization, between September 2013 and April 2017 CASIS was allocated 2,915 crew research hours on the National Lab, but CASIS-managed projects used only 1,537 (52.7 percent) of these hours. Although CASIS officials attributed the organization's limited success in this area to three failed ISS resupply missions in FY 2015, given its performance to date, CASIS utilization rates for the National Lab will likely further diminish when NASA adds an additional crew member to the Station in late 2018.

In addition, we found NASA failed to actively oversee CASIS's technical performance and instead took a largely "hands-off" approach to managing CASIS that has contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. For example, NASA has not developed an overall strategy identifying the achievements or outcomes expected from CASIS through the end of its cooperative agreement nor has the Agency provided guidance or set expectations for CASIS's performance. Instead, NASA has accepted CASIS's slow improvement over the first 5 years of the cooperative agreement without requiring corrective action plans or offering suggestions to improve performance. Although FY 2016 marked the first year CASIS's performance plan included metrics and quantifiable targets for several performance categories, these metrics and targets were not included for all performance categories."

Prior Posts on CASIS

Lockheed Martin, Boeing aerospace venture bilked U.S. for $90 million, lawsuit says, Denver Post

"A whistleblower has settled a lawsuit filed against a Centennial aerospace company formed by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company that claimed the company defrauded the U.S. government out of at least $90 million by grossly overcharging for employee work hours. Whistleblower Joseph Scott filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and the government against United Launch Alliance and United Launch Services, under the Federal Civil False Claims Act. Scott is a former ULA employee. Under the terms of the settlement, ULA agreed to pay $432,826, of which Scott was to receive $82,237. The settlement says that ULA does not acknowledge wrongdoing."

Statement From Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX on Zuma Launch

"For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible. "

It's not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost, Ars Technica

"A media query to Northrop Grumman, which manufactured the satellite, was not immediately returned Monday. (Update: Tim Paynter, Vice President of Strategic Communications for Northrop Grumman, said, "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.") Actions taken by SpaceX on Monday indicate its confidence in the rocket's performance during the Zuma launch. Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. Also, the company continued with preparations for future launches, including rolling the Falcon Heavy rocket back out to a different launch pad in Florida for additional tests."

SpaceX'S top Secret Zuma Mission Set To Launch, Wired

"Veteran aerospace manufacturer Northrop Grumman built the payload, according to a document obtained by WIRED and later confirmed by the company. The company says it built Zuma for the US government, and it's also providing an adapter to mate Zuma with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket."

Highly classified US spy satellite appears to be a total loss after SpaceX launch, CNBC

"Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload -- code-named Zuma -- citing industry and government officials. The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the report said."

Keith's note: No one is going to go on the record about anything Zuma did - or did not do. So its probably up to those folks who scan the skies for every object launched into - or returning from - space. They know where Zuma is "supposed" to be ...


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