Commercialization: March 2019 Archives

Keith's note: CASIS Chief Strategy Officer Richard Leach made a presentation "Forecasting the 2024-2035 Space Based National Laboratory for Life and Physical Sciences Space Research" at the National Academies of Science Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space meeting yesterday. During that presentation he announced that CASIS aka The ISS National Laboratory has expanded their scope of operations. They are now going to expand well beyond the ISS even though their cooperative agreement with NASA prohibits such an expansion.

As previously noted CASIS now uses "ISS National Laboratory" as their new public name even though they claim that they have not changed their name. I need to refer to this non-profit as "CASIS" since it would be hard to refer to the ISS National Laboratory as both a facility and also as a separate non-profit organization (with the same name) that runs and represents itself to be the ISS National Laboratory - even though they are not one in the same. (see CASIS Is Changing Its Name By Pretending That Its Not )

Anyway - at this NAS meeting during "Space Science Week" here in DC, CASIS proclaimed itself to be a "space integrator" and no longer limits its activities to managing the U.S. portion of the ISS i.e. the ISS National Laboratory (per its cooperative agreement with NASA). CASIS will now be supporting a broad range of microgravity platforms including suborbital vehicles, balloons, parabolic flights, drop towers, ground based laboratories and big data platforms. (larger chart image)

How will CASIS do this? That is not clear. Recently I reported that CASIS is working to develop a commercial entity to manage its expanded portfolio of services to be offered in a commercial fashion. When I asked them about this publicly they denied that they were doing this much to the chagrin of CASIS staff, board members, affiliated companies, advisors and stakeholders - and of course, NASA. They have hired a top shelf law firm in Washington DC to help them do this. (see CASIS Continues Its Stealth Commercialization Plans and CASIS Had A Board Meeting Today)

Let's look at what CASIS is legally bound to do - and not do - with the funds that NASA provides: According to NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A - as modified 27 January 2015 (see this document, page 27)

"1.1 Introduction

This Cooperative Agreement is awarded pursuant to Section 504 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-257, found at USC 8354) by NASA to the Center for the Advancement of Science in space ("CASIS"). The parties agree that the principal purpose of this Agreement is to authorize CASIS to serve as the not-for-profit entity for management of the International Space Station ("ISS") National Laboratory ("NL"), per section 504 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, to maximize the value of the investment the U.S. government has made int the ISS and demonstrates the scientific and technological productivity of the ISS over the next decade.

1.2.1. CASIS Mission

CASIS will be responsible for maximizing the value of the ISS to the nation by developing and managing a diversified R&D portfolio based on U.S. national needs for basic and applied research and by using the ISS as a venue for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational activities.

1.2.2. CCASIS Goals

- stimulate, develop and manage the U.S. national uses of the ISS by other government agencies, academic institutions and private firms.
- Develop tools and techniques to communicate the value of uses of the ISS National Laboratory (IS NL) and increase the retuen on the U.S. investment in the ISS.

1.2.4 Prohibition of Other Activities

CASIS shall engage exclusively in activities relating to the management of the ISS NL and activities that promote its long term research and development mission as required by Section 504 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, without any other organizational objectives or responsibilities on behalf of CASIS or any parent organization or other entity."

Note that according to section 1.2.4. CASIS is specifically prohibited from doing anything other than its stated tasks. These new business activities on non-ISS platforms would seem to be a direct violation of section 1.2.4. Moreover, since NASA pays 99.9% of the annual operating expenses of CASIS, the creation and operation of this new business entity (not a trivial endeavor) is most certainly being organized and operated with the use of personnel paid for with NASA funds - unless CASIS is now truly a business venture and is being paid to do these things on a commercial basis. The IRS should find that to be of interest.

Either way, in so doing, CASIS is openly seeking to compete in the private sector with companies that it is also supposed to be offering ISS National Laboratory access to - and they do so by confusingly calling themselves "ISS National Laboratory". Just a quick guess would suggest that CASIS is now going to enter markets where companies such as Nanoracks, Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, ZeroG and many others already provide commercial services.

Oh yes, one more thing when it comes to ISS National Laboratory branding: NASA's Director for the International Space Station Sam Scimemi, expressed concern about this in a 31 March 2016 letter to CASIS: "We would advice caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to ensure 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."

I wonder what NASA thinks about all of this. CASIS clearly steps over the line when it comes to what it is they are supposed to be doing - and not doing - and now they do it by claiming to actually BE the ISS National Laboratory in both name and function. Of course, this time, CASIS has kept NASA completely in the loop on these commercial plans and gave NASA a heads up on their upcoming NAS presentation, right? I don't think so.

Stay tuned.

Earlier posts on CASIS and ISS

CDSE Statement Following Senate Commerce Hearing with the NASA Administrator

"No launch vehicle other than the SLS can enable the launch of a fully-outfitted Orion, including the SM, to the Moon. As a result, the Administrator noted that this approach would require at least two launches of heavy-lift vehicles. It could also include in-orbit assembly of a launch vehicle with an upper stage, which would then be used to direct Orion and the SM to the Moon. The analysis to determine whether this approach is feasible is still ongoing. The integration challenges are significant. It is also clear that this approach would require additional funding, since the idea is to undertake both this mission and to continue development of the SLS apace.

The assessment of options such as these are the hallmark of both NASA and the aerospace industry that supports it. Distributed across all 50 states in civil, commercial and military space, the aerospace and defense industry is crucial to U.S. competitiveness across the globe and to American leadership in science, security, entrepreneurship and human exploration of space. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and its member companies strongly support forward-leaning efforts to speed human return to the Moon. We welcome the opportunity to join NASA in the flights of Orion, SLS and the Exploration Ground Systems that support these journeys, and the rapid expansion of science, commerce and human exploration at the Moon and beyond."

Keith's note: Looks like the SLS crowd is worried. Meanwhile, it is rather hilarious that The Coalition For Deep Space Exploration (created as a SLS/Orion lobbying organization) is suddenly worried that a commercial EM-1 might "require additional funding" after SLS has gone billions over budget and is 4-5 years behind schedule for EM-1 - thus creating the need for alternate thinking. Where was their outrage when SLS started to "require additional funding"?

Keith's note: Let's see: Saturn V was 363 feet tall and weighed 6,540,000 lb. SLS Block 1 (the only rocket this budget supports) is 322 feet tall for crew version and 313 feet tall for the cargo version and weighs 5.5. million lb. SLS Block 1 can put 209,000 lb in to LEO and Saturn V could put 310,000 lb into LEO. Oh yes a totally expendable Falcon Heavy can put 141,000 lb into LEO. You can buy a bunch of them for the same cost of a SLS. Then there's the Soviet N-1, and the upcoming Blue Origin New Glenn and SpaceX Starship - both of which may be operating before the fully upgraded SLS. Jim Bridenstine said "We're talking about a rocket that's bigger than any rocket that's ever been built in human history". So ... is SLS bigger than any rocket in history? Not so sure about that. Paper rockets don't count. Just sayin'. Larger image

Russia's passive-aggressive reaction to SpaceX may mask a deeper truth, Ars Technica

"I would like to point out something else interesting--from one point of view this is a good thing, because we were carrying astronauts, we were getting basically for free $400 million a year at about $90 million per seat for each foreign astronaut. That is more than the entire cost of the rocket and the ship and launch operations taken together. This means as long as we had at least one foreign astronaut on board, we were launching for free. For us this wasn't just a freebie--it was a narcotic. It allowed us to do absolutely nothing and still earn money. And now, this narcotic is going to be cut off, and we will be forced to do something. Either we will pass into history along with all of our space achievements, like Portugal, with its discovery of America and the voyages of Magellan and so forth, or we will have to seriously do something."

Russian Rocket Program Sputters in New Race to Space, Bloomberg

"Russia's market share for rocket technology worldwide fell slightly in 2017, which Roscosmos blamed on sanctions, the weak ruble and increased competition, according to its annual report published on Friday. It singled out SpaceX for allegedly undercutting the market thanks to U.S. government assistance. ... The windfall funding from the U.S. hasn't always been spent wisely. Alexei Kudrin, the head of the country's Audit Chamber, told Russia's lower house of parliament in June that he found 760 billion rubles ($11.4 billion) of financial violations in Roscosmos's books. "Several billion have been spent, basically stolen, that we are currently investigating," Kudrin said in an interview aired Nov. 25 on state-run Rossiya 24 TV. "Roscosmos is the champion in terms of the scale of such violations."

- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

"I just love all the pictures of the car this article contains. This guy was embezzling money from Putin and yet he thought it was fine to be driving around in a "diamond-encrusted Mercedes". It would seem like he was either asking to be caught - or .... that cosmodrome construction workers commonly drive around in diamond-encrusted Mercedes."

SpaceX Crew Dragon Arrives At The International Space Station

"International Space Station's Harmony module forward port via "soft capture" at 5:51 a.m. EST while the station was traveling more than 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean, just north of New Zealand."

Space Station Crew Opens Hatch to Crew Dragon After Docking

"Aboard the space station, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 58 commander Oleg Kononenko opened the hatch between the Crew Dragon and the orbital laboratory at 8:07 a.m. EST."

SpaceX Launches First NASA Commercial Crew Demonstration Mission

"For the first time in history, a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket, which launched from American soil, is on its way to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off at 2:49 a.m. EST Saturday on the company's Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida."


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