Commercialization: December 2018 Archives

Keith's update: S. 3277 failed passage on the House on a 239 -137 vote under a suspension of the rules wherein debate is limited, no amendments allowed, and a 2/3 majority is required for passage.

Bill Nelson's last big space bill approved by U.S. Senate, Florida Politics

"Senate Bill 3277, which was introduced in July with Texas Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as primary sponsor and Nelson and Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts as the co-sponsors, was approved unanimously Thursday. It's closest companion, House Resolution 2809, was approved in the House of Representatives in April, though there are some significant differences. SB 3277 includes a number of provisions, many of them offered by Nelson, which would streamline and clarify the roles played by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies in promoting the commercial space business, and extend and expand NASA's program to work with such private space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin at centers such as Kennedy Space Center."

AIA Comment on Senate Passage of the Space Frontier Act

"This bipartisan bill is a strong statement in support of America's growing commercial space industry. It would update space transportation regulations and commit to the full use of the International Space Station through 2030 for critical commercial and scientific purposes. We look forward to working with members of Congress next year to get commercial space legislation passed and signed into law, ensuring American space presence and dominance into the future."

S.3277 - Space Frontier Act of 2018

Space Infrastructure Leasing Bill Sent to President's Desk, House Science Committee

"Today, the House of Representatives unanimously approved S. 7, the NASA Enhanced Use Lease Extension Act of 2018, sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss). The bipartisan bill is now on its way to the President's desk. S.7 enables commercial access to valuable NASA infrastructure and facilities. NASA's enhanced use lease authority gives NASA a crucial tool to partner with the private sector."

Keith's update: Sources report that CASIS Executive DirectorJoseph Vockley has actually been asleep at the wheel at CASIS. Literally. CASIS employees say that he falls asleep at both internal CASIS and external meetings - including those held with NASA. Vockley has stated to many people that he is really not in charge at CASIS - and that Melody Kuehner, the CASIS Human Resources Manager and Board Secretary, actually runs the organization. This is how NASA plans to convert ISS into a fully commercial venture - the people in charge at CASIS are not actually in charge.

Keith's 11 December note: CASIS, the non-profit created to run the ISS National Laboratory, has been on a hiring spree of late. Three high level executives have been hired at $300K+ annual salaries recently. Meanwhile, existing CASIS staff are not getting cost of living increases and having their vacation benefits cut. It would seem that no one is going to fix the big, lingering problems at CASIS.

Joseph Vockley was recently hired as the new Executive Director of CASIS. He has zero experience with space but he's pulling in a salary close to $400k a year. In addition to Vockley CASIS has hired CASIS Chief Strategy Officer, Richard Leach (an old buddy of Vockley's) and Vice President Christine Kretz. Neither of the positions filled by Leach or Kretz were advertised. Neither Kretz or Leach have any space experience.

When you ask Bill Gertsenmaier and Jim Bridenstine how they will be certain that the ISS will be able to be taken over by commercial funding when NASA pulls out, they point to CASIS as the prime solution to that looming problem. CASIS' response is to hire new leadership with no basic space flight experience. This is not what you'd expect an organization that needs to beef up its space commercialization skill set would be doing to meet that challenge. Indeed, CASIS is still unable to use all of the crew and other resources that NASA offers it on the ISS.

We've been looking into the CASIS mess since its inception. In the past year Bill Gerstenmaier finally seemed to have gotten the message and had his staff tell CASIS to clean up its act after years after year of underperformance. In "Is CASIS Fixing Its Management Problems?" the series of NASA and CASIS interactions on management are examined. Alas, it would seem that CASIS was only paying lip service to NASA's concerns and NASA is utterly disinterested in making CASIS do the job that they are being paid to do.

- CASIS Responds To NASA's List Of Problems With CASIS, earlier post
- CASIS Is Still Broken, earlier post
- Earlier CASIS postings

Keith's note: In September 2004, I was sitting in the auditorium at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in the final session of the NASA Administrator's Symposium "Risk and Exploration: Earth, Moon and the Stars". I co-chaired this event with Astronaut/NASA Chief Scientist John Grunsfeld. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe departed the event early so as to fly in and be at Mojave for the attempt at winning the XPrize. We watched a live video feed in the meeting room. There was a scary moment at one point - actual risk, as was the discussion at our event - and then success at 100 km/62 miles - landing - and then celebration.

Yesterday's flight by Virgin Galactic, albeit to a lower altitude, is a milestone of sorts - one that was only won with a lot of hard work and ultimate sacrifices by multiple employees. When one enters "space" is a matter of definitions and opinion. In 2004 it was 62 miles. Yesterday it was 51.4 miles. Whatever. You can call them and ask why they picked the easier goal to strive for.

That said, and numbers not withstanding, a lot has been invested in this. Soon, paying customers will ride close to - or (depending upon your opinion) into "space". The formal definition is somewhat arbitrary but still a matter of formal definition that can always be adjusted. OK, so who cares. From where SpaceShipTwo was poised, Earth's curvature is obvious. There is no air outside. And your blood would boil if you opened the door. Its outer space. Deal with it. NASA is no longer the only way to get there.

A few years ago I completed the Suborbital Astronaut Certification program at NASTAR. I flew several full acceleration profiles in a world class centrifuge based upon data from the original SpaceShipOne flight. I was pumped and tried to bribe the centrifuge operator for a third flight. Anyone in resonable health can do this. You just need several hundred thousand dollars to spare. That is the greater challenge.

FWIW Virgin Galactic is hyper-sensitive to media depictions of their events. Some media outlets have dumped on them relentlessly for reasons that remain obscure. Despite rather positive depictions of their efforts and lots of off-the-record chats with staff over the years about how to do media, NASAWatch was not invited to cover this event.

OK. That's your call George. Nice spaceship.

Richard Branson Welcomes Astronauts Home from Virgin Galactic's Historic First Spaceflight

"The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced today that early next year they will present pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings."

Keith's note: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 51.4 miles today after 15 years of struggles to replicate the performance of SpaceShipOne in 2004. AFter some additional tests commercial passengers will reportedly be carried. But did they go to "space" today?

According to Wikipedia "The Kármán line, or Karman line, lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft) above Earth's sea level and commonly represents the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This definition is accepted by the Fédération aéronautique internationale (FAI), which is an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics. ... The U.S. Air Force definition of an astronaut is a person who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 kilometres) above mean sea level, approximately the line between the mesosphere and the thermosphere. NASA formerly used the FAI's 100-kilometer (62 mi) figure, though this was changed in 2005, to eliminate any inconsistency between military personnel and civilians flying in the same vehicle."

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two only reached 51.4 miles. So that's not "space" if you accept the decades-old internationally-accepted definition. Ironically, all of the hoopla and arm waving in 2004 when SpaceShipOne won the XPrize happened only after it had passed the 100km/62 mile Karman line. It took Virgin 15 years to almost make the same altitude again.

But now there's an effort a foot to lower the internationally-accepted altitude to make it easier to reach "space". But no one has formally adopted that yet, As such it looks like Virgin Galactic jumped the shark to some extent for the purposes of marketing, etc. In some countries and from the perspective of some regulatory agencies, they did not reach "space" - yet. Just sayin'.

Boeing Was Going to Build Satellites for a China-Funded Firm. Why It Just Backed Out of the Deal, Fortune

"Boeing has canceled a deal to build a communications satellite -- which it has almost completed -- on the basis that the startup that ordered it has defaulted on payments. The sudden cancellation, however, comes on the heels of a report that detailed how the project was actually financed by a firm owned by the Chinese government. The Wall Street Journal exposed the situation earlier this week. The startup that ordered the satellite is called Global IP, and it wanted to use it for African Internet access. However, the deal was financed by an outfit called China Orient Asset Management, which is owned by the Chinese finance ministry and bankrolls military technology suppliers in the country. According to that report, some national security officials suspected Boeing was trying to bypass a ban on selling satellites directly to China. The ban is in place because of fears over the Chinese military gaining access to sensitive technology."

2 Companies Pay Penalties For Improving China Rockets, NY Times (2003)

"Two leading American aerospace companies have agreed to pay a record $32 million in penalties to settle civil charges that they unlawfully transferred rocket and satellite data to China in the 1990's. The agreement, which was completed on Tuesday and released today, comes two months after the State Department accused the companies, Hughes Electronics Corporation, a unit of General Motors, and Boeing Satellite Systems of 123 violations of export laws in connection with the Chinese data transfers. In a joint statement the companies said they ''express regret for not having obtained licenses that should have been obtained'' in the 1990's by a Hughes unit, the Hughes Space and Communications Company, which was acquired in 2000 by Boeing."

Keith's note: This has happened before. And this time Boeing only discovered the Chinese financing of this satellite in the past few days when the Wall Street Journal figured it out? Really Boeing?

A SpaceX Delivery Capsule May Be Contaminating The ISS, Wired

"Part of the problem here, though, is NASA's reluctance to talk about both the problem and the plans to fix it. The presentation, shared during the Payload Operations Integration Working Group meeting back in April, was approved for unclassified and unlimited public release and placed on the NASA Technical Reports Server in early September. I asked for an interview about it on September 25. The next day, the presentation was gone. "The record details page you tried to access cannot be found on this server," the page now says. I inquired about the dead link, and more than three weeks later, I received a response: "The document is under review," wrote Meagan Storey, of the NASA Scientific and Technical Information Program, "and we advise that you make a FOIA request for the item." Statistically, that's probably a losing prospect."

Keith's note: SpaceX successfully placed a Dragon cargo vehicle into orbit today. Alas, as it returned to Earth, the Falcon 9's first stage lost control and it landed in the ocean.


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