ISS News: January 2020 Archives

Keith's note: On 27 January 2020 NASA issued a release NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station. This title and a lot of the wording are misleading since the release actually says "NASA selected Axiom from proposals submitted in response to a solicitation through Appendix I of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) 2 Broad Agency Announcement, which offered private industry use of the station utilities and a port to attach one or more commercial elements to the orbiting laboratory."

The Appendix says "All awardees will receive Task Order 1 for concept and business plan development." That's it. Down the road NASA says "At the time of contract award, depending on the concept maturity and availability of funds, NASA may award Task Order 2 to begin the early design phase and mature business plans, leading to subsequent task orders and an eventual decision point for prioritization of use of the ISS port."

This NASA agreement with Axiom is actually the first step in a series of agreements. NASA did not select Axiom to do anything other than come up with a plan - to develop a plan - do something that NASA still has to evaluate - something that requires lots of follow-up Agreements - and more plans. But everyone is reacting as if they are about to start cutting hardware. See "Expanding The ISS For Customers That No One Can Identify" for more thoughts on the Axiom agreement

According to a 30 January 2020 press release In a Space Industry First, NASA Grants KBR the Right to Train Private Astronauts at NASA Facilities from NASA contractor KBR (one of the partners in the Aziom team) "KBR (NYSE: KBR), a leading solutions provider to the civil, military and commercial space industry, will become the first company to train private astronauts at NASA facilities. The company recently signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Johnson Space Center allowing it to provide human spaceflight operation services to commercial companies. KBR currently holds the only agreement with NASA to provide these services using the agency's facilities and capabilities." and "The agreement directly supports one of five elements of NASA's plan to open the ISS to new commercial and marketing opportunities that will continue the agency's efforts to enable a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy. As was recently announced, KBR will further support this mission by working as a subcontractor to Axiom Space on the first commercial destination module for the ISS."

If you go to this NASA web page Current Space Act Agreements there are links to 4 recently updated lists of current agreements between NASA and a panoply of companies, organizations, educational institutions, and others. On this list (last updated 30 September 2019). There is no mention of "KBR" among the 1,131 SAAs listed. There are 3 SAAs with with Wyle Laboratories, Inc, a KBR subsidiary. One of these agreements is titled "NASA NEUTRAL BUOYANCY LABORATORY FACILITY USAGE AGREEMENT: with Wyle Laboratories, Inc (a KBR subsidiary). This SAA started 10 April 2017 and runs to 31 May 2021 (SSA-SA-16-22103-02). This SAA was signed in 2017 (but the text is not posted online) so I am not certain if that qualifies as "recent" unless there is another NASA SAA with KBR and/or Wylie or another part of KBR signed after 30 September 2019 that we have not been told about.

Axiom has 4 SAAs in place with NASA. These 2 are posted online: ""Flight Operations Directorate Axiom Training (which mentions KBR and several documents as being attached to the SAA which are not provided in the online text of the SAA)" and "Low-Earth Orbit Commercial Development Utilizing the ISS" which is an "umbrella agreement" established "for the purpose of establishing a reimbursable agreement between NASA and Axiom whereby NASA provides unique services and capabilities to Axiom in support of commercial development activities including pre-flight mission planning for prospective astronaut trainees" But nothing specific is mentioned as who pays how much for which service. And neithert KBR or Wylie mentioned.

There are SAAs between Axiom and NASA to use services (and KBR is in the mix on one of them) but there is no evidence of a SAA between NASA and KBR, as mentioned in their press release. Or are they talking about an older one from 2017 with Wylie (i.e, not "recent")? It would seem that KBR issued this press release about a SAA they claim to have that is actually several years old with one of its subsidiaries. NASA makes no mention of any SAA with KBR yet mentions over a thousand other SAAs. It looks like KBR tossed out this press release to capitalize on the recent news of the Axiom agreement signed with NASA representing a team to which KBR belongs.

Right now no one has given Axiom the green light to build and operate anything connected to ISS - just to pursue studies that would lead to further agreements. Good news. Someone has a basic plan that may bear fruit. I have asked NASA for a copy of this Space Act Agreement mentioned by KBR in direct reference to the Axiom activity and any others between NASA and KBR/Wylie that relate to astronaut training and/or use of NASA training facilities.

Keith's update: NASA JSC PAO replied that this agreement with JSC and SGT is the SAA that KBR is referring to. KBR bought SGT NASA JSC/SGT Vendor Partner Agreement 9/10/2019 9/10/2024 Reimbursable JSC SAA-CA-19-28973. Oddly, despite all of the crew training you'd think would go into having commercial astronauts on Axiom attached to the ISS for a prolonged period, that this training would cost a fair amount of money. This agreement says that "Partner agrees to reimburse NASA an estimated $84,606.77 for NASA to carry out its responsibilities under this agreement. In no event will NASA transfer any U.S. Government funds to Partner under this agreement." $84,606.77? That's it - for 5 years - for the use of all the facilities and people has on the payroll? Either NASA is underwriting the work in this SAA to a substantial degree with a hefty discount - or the hundreds of millions NASA has spent to train astronauts for ISS work over the past 20 years represents a gross waste of money on the part of NASA. Or ... this SAA and other documents mentioned above represent only a portion of what the real agreement between Axiom/KBR et al contains.

What JSC and HEOMD ought to be doing is to explain what these agreements are and (more importantly) are not. They need to explain - in normal language, who does what with/from whom, when everything happens, who pays NASA to do do things, and how much it costs (NASA has published "Commercial and Marketing Pricing Policy" price list). The press release by NASA is extremely misleading. Yes these agreements are a start but the title of the NASA press release should have been "NASA Selects The First Company To Submit Plans For A Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station". Just sayin'

Oh yes ... we've covered some earlier commercial astronaut training stories at JSC ...

- Waypoint2space Clarifies A Few Things About Astronaut Training at NASA JSC, earlier post (2016)
- Waypoint2space Wants You To Train Like An Astronaut (But You Won't Be One), earlier post (2016)
- More Q&A With Opifex Global About Their Astronaut Training Thing, earlier post (2019)

GAO: NASA Commercial Crew Program: Significant Work Remains to Begin Operational Missions to the Space Station

"NASA will have fewer astronauts on the ISS in 2020 unless the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft are ready to fly missions, but significant work remains for both. NASA has few back-up options if delays continue and will have only one astronaut on the U.S. side by April 2020. Most of this astronaut's time will be spent on maintenance activities rather than on research and development.

To fly as soon as possible, NASA has been planning to complete its reviews of the contractors' systems under aggressive time frames. This approach is risky because it assumes the contractors will complete multiple activities on time. Boeing and SpaceX must conduct additional test flights, train astronauts, and get a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

FAA licenses cover the contractors' launch and reentry activities. FAA may grant waivers for changes to the license that do not jeopardize public safety. For example, FAA may grant waivers for changes in launch trajectory. NASA needs to know when such changes have been made in case they affect the crew. While NASA and FAA have coordinated on launch licensing for years, they have not yet decided how they will communicate about waivers. As a result, NASA may not have all the information it needs for launch decisions."

NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station

"The element will attach to the space station's Node 2 forward port to demonstrate its ability to provide products and services and begin the transition to a sustainable economy in which NASA is one of many customers. NASA and Axiom next will begin negotiations on the terms and price of a firm-fixed-price contract with a five-year base performance period and a two-year option."

Keith's note: To be certain, the full potential of the International Space Station has yet to be fully tapped - and it has an inherent capacity to be greatly expanded beyond its current configuration with commercial interests being a likely partner. But who is the customer for the use of this addition? Is it only NASA? What user demand model is the basis for facility's size and operations and what assumptions is it based on? NASA still can't fully use the ISS that it has in orbit now and it has dueling (and sometimes conflicting) utilization systems via NASA and CASIS. Isn't it a little odd to sign an agreement with these uncertainties before we know who is going to pay for this and how much they're going to pay? Just sayin'.

Keith's update: Some questions come to mind - this is the stream of consciousness order in which they occurred to me (I used to do space station payload utilization when I had a real job - at NASA): What payload attributes does this Axiom space facility have? How many payload racks will there be? What are the utilities offered at each rack location? Out of whose operations budget do the power, cooling and other utility allocations come? How many racks can be configured for sub-rack payload integration? What payload facilities (glove boxes, integration hardware) will be provided by Axiom? What does the customer have to provide? Will the payload allocation be in addition to NASA's allocation or will rack space be considered part of the overall payload space subject for use by ISS partners? Does CASIS have an allocation within these facilities? Who is the prime user interface for NASA customers - the ISS program office? CASIS? Both? Someone else? Will the cost of flying a payload via ISS program office, CASIS, and Axiom be the same or different? If so how - and why? How much of the facility's capability is owned by Axiom? Does NASA or the other iSS partners have any approval/veto over payloads? Will the U.S. and the international partners be able to include Axiom facilities in their long-standing practice of bartering resources? How does Axiom intend to cover ITAR/IP Issues - is this considered a U.S. facility for those purposes? Will Axiom fly private astronauts to the ISS? If so from whom do they buy seats and is the price the same or different than what NASA pays? At the end of its operational lifetime is Axiom responsible for cost and conduct of the disposal/de-orbit of their facilities? What payload/utilization demand models did NASA and Axiom use as the basis for this agreement? Were these models made available to other bidders? Can these payload models be made available publicly? What orbital lifetime will NASA guarantee to Axiom? What provisions are in place in case NASA is forced to withdraw from supporting ISS? Has Axiom been given options to buy or lease current on-orbit facilities located in other parts of the ISS? And so on.

If there was a press event for this announcement and I was able to ask questions I can guarantee that the answers to my questions would be "we'll get back to you"; "that has not been determined yet", "I do not know"; "That's up to Axiom" (who would decline to answer); "That's up to NASA" (who would decline to answer); "It depends on Congress"; "we are confident that people will want to use this world class facility". And FWIW when they say "we'll get back to you" that is always followed by nothing but crickets. As such its not really worth contacting PAO about this.

Delivery of Nauka module to Baikonur postponed over fuel tank adjustments, TASS

"The construction of the Nauka module began in 1995. Russia initially planned to launch the Nauka lab to the ISS as a back-up of the Zarya compartment (the station's first module that continues its flight as part of the orbital outpost) but the launch was numerously delayed. In 2013, the Nauka module was sent to the Khrunichev Space Center after metal chips were found in its fuel system. Rogozin said on December 16 that the module may be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2021 instead of late 2020 as was initially planned."

Khrunichev Delivers Multi-purpose Laboratory Module "Nauka" to Energia, 2012

Keith's note: Update and clarification: I've had multiple reports inside the NASA/CASIS community that the final report has been delivered. That is not exactly accurate. In fact, an out briefing on the final results has been made to NASA but the actual, formal document is still in preparation - as noted in these tweets today from SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen.

Keith's earlier note: The final report of the CASIS review panel has been delivered to NASA. It is not expected that we'll hear anything from NASA until the end of the month or the beginning of February. CASIS has been in stand down or "strategic pause" since this review committee was initiated. The CEO has been on leave ever since and several other senior staff have been reassigned. The acting CEO has kept the organization running smoothly in the interim - and both the review team and NASA have noticed this relative improvement.

The review has seen and highlighted the strengths (and there are many) among the folks at CASIS who do the real work. They have also documented all of the needless "drama" (a word commonly used in the review) associated with the prior management team. One would hope that the CASIS review team recommends that NASA continue with what works at CASIS and strives make it and its relationship with CASIS better while ejecting the people and things that hinder or undermine CASIS as it accomplishes its tasks.

The review panel has found many things at CASIS that are broken that are the fault of CASIS management. But they have also found that NASA was an absentee landlord and neglected to provide appropriate oversight of this activity. Without a healthy two-way relationship, NASA and CASIS failed to make the most of the relationship. That needs to change. NASA and CASIS need to redefine what CASIS is and is not expected to do, what NASA is and is not expected to do, how NASA and CASIS can better communicate and coordinate, and how they can both work together in synergy as a team - not as dysfunctional competitors.

The International Space Station is too vital a national - indeed a global - asset to waste. It has only begin to prove its value.

- NASA Orders A Review Of CASIS (Update), earlier post
- Former CASIS Employee Indicted For Charging For Prostitutes on Travel Reports, earlier post
- CASIS Quarterly Reports To NASA Are Now Online at NASAWatch, earlier post
- Previous CASIS postings

Keith's note: This tweet refers to "Publication Metrics from the International Space Station Results", a 6 January 2020 page which attempts to show how much research has been accomplished on the ISS. As you all know people outside of NASA constantly ask what it is those astronauts do up there. Alas, as is the case with all NASA research conducted by various directorates, missions, division, centers, and projects, no one at NASA truly has a central collection of ISS research data. Why? Because NASA cannot cooperate internally and externally to make this happen. Over the decades I have watched people try to pull it all together in one place. Invariably one effort collides with another group trying to do the same thing. Cooperation is not always the obvious solution since both efforts have separate funding streams and cooperating would lead to a cut in funding. So the building of independent data stovepipes continues.

There are some ISS research resources that NASA promotes to the public. But there are others, of great utility, that NASA goes out of its way to ignore - even though they are often more illustrative and linked to more of NASA's ISS research than the things NASA wants you to see. Two of those resources are NASA Spaceline Current Awareness and NASA's PubSpace.

Neither NASA's ISS National Laboratory, Publication Metrics from the International Space Station Results, Space Station Research & Technology, ISS Benefits for Humanity, Let's Explore Space Station Science, or Space Station Research Results Citations Resources link or make any mention of PubSpace or Spaceline Current Awareness.

If you go to the CASIS/ISS National Laboratory website or its publications page neither PubSpace or Spaceline Current Awareness are referenced or linked to either. In fact CASIS only makes one link back to one of NASA's ISS pages here on a sub page under their Research header link. NASA is not exactly linking up a storm to CASIS either.

Of course if you go to the NASA Spaceline Current Awareness page it makes zero linkage back to NASA or CASIS. Nor does it link to PubSpace. The NASA Spaceline page is hosted at NASAPRS. You will note that their archive only goes back to 2003. The only place you can currently find a complete archive of the Spaceline reports is on our SpaceRef website here - all the way back to 1996.

Historic note: NASA started a service to catalog space biology research results back in the late 1980s when I worked in the life sciences division as a space biologist at NASA HQ. Ron Dutcher and Janet Powers at USHUS saw this project through hard times - even when funding often disappeared. I took it upon myself to grab all of their reports when their site went dark for a while in the late 1990s/early 2000s and have kept it all online ever since. A few years back Spaceline found a new home at NASAPRS where it is maintained along the same lines of excellence that have characterized this labor of love since the 1980s.

Federal law enacted a few years back managed that all government funded research be made public in a fashion readily accessible. NASA chose to intergate its various research result collections with the PubMed Central (PMC) repository which is hosted by The National Institutes of Health. That resource is called PubSpace. PubSpace does not link back to NASA or CASIS pages on ISS research. Nor does it link to Spaceline.

Of course there is more to ISS research than life and microgravity science. There's stuff out on the truss looking out at the universe and back at Earth. The NASA Astrophysics Data System has lots of stuff about this. A simple search for "space station" shows that. Then there's the arXiv.org preprint server. A search for "space station" yields results there too. None of the NASA websites referenced above mention either of these resources even though NASA either funds the service an/or funds a vast portion of the research they contain.

There's something rather broken with the way that NASA coordinates all of its research result outreach efforts. When you visit one of them it is as if the others do not even exist.

So here we are. NASA is trying to promote the whole LEO commercialization thing with the ISS as a keystone on this effort. NASA tries to turn ISS off and give it to the private sector but Congress responds by extending its life and telling NASA to pay for it. Now NASA wants to build a mini-space station called Gateway in cislunar space to operate in parallel with ISS. Indeed Gateway is already being marketed in some ways as a way to do the sort of things that are done on ISS. As noted above there is a constant questioning of why we need a space station and what value it provides. NASA tries to respond to these inquiries but always manages to trip when it comes to making the big decisions required to truly explain - to a variety of audiences - what space stations do. Everyone has a different story. Some of the explanations resonate. Others do not.

NASA wants to establish a permanent human research presence in lunar orbit and on the surface and go to Mars and all that other stuff. If NASA cannot get itself on the same page regarding the whole cost/benefit equation in LEO on an established platform like ISS, then it is improbable that they will ever pull a cohesive plan together to explain the lunar and Mars things.

A good place to start would be to synchronize all NASA and NASA-funded space station outreach into a coordinated package with a single entry point - not a swarm of unconnected and independent efforts.

Keith's note: Over the past few years I have submitted regular FOIA requests to NASA HQ for documents related to how NASA and CASIS interact with one another. Specifically I asked for the quarterly reports submitted by CASIS to NASA. Below is a collection of these reports. For the most part they are un-redacted. Sometimes they are - alas the redactions are not consistent over the entire collection with somethings blacked out on one report only to be in the clear on another. Since CASIS' perfomance is currently being reviewed by a panel chartered by NASA HQ I thought his information - along with other things I have posted about CASIS over the years - would be of interest to the review panel.

FY 19 Quarters [1] [2]
FY 18 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 17 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 16 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 15 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 14 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 13 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]
FY 12 Quarters [1] [2] [3] [4]


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This page is an archive of entries in the ISS News category from January 2020.

ISS News: December 2019 is the previous archive.

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