NASA Safety Panel: Significant Challenges Remain for SLS & Orion Programs

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon continues to make steady progress but faces significant challenges in manufacturing, flight control, software and other key areas as a crucial test of an abort system looms this spring, according to a new report released on Friday.

A section of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s (ASAP) Annual Report examined progress with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion crew vehicle and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs. An uncrewed flight of SLS and Orion known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is scheduled for next year.

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This Week on The Space Show


This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1 Monday, Feb. 11, 2019; 2-3:30 PM PST (4-5:30 PM CST, 5-6:30 PM EST): No show for today as we begin to transition to the end of regularly scheduled Monday programs.

2. Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019: 7-8:30 PM PST (9-10:30 pm CST; 10-11:30 PM EST): We welcome back MATT BILLE to discuss the microsat support to whale science, tracking and conservation.

3. Wednesday, Feb. 13 2019: Hotel Mars. See Upcoming Show Menu and the website newsletter for details. Hotel Mars is pre-recorded by John Batchelor. It is archived on The Space Show site after John posts it on his website.

4. Friday, Feb. 15, 2019; 9:30-11 AM PST; 11:30 AM-1 PM CST; 12:30-2 PM EST. We welcome DR. WILL DAWSON of the LLNL to discuss dark energy, dark matter and more

5. The Sunday, Feb. 17 2019 12-1:30 PM PST, (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST): No show today as part of the Washington Birthday National Holiday weekend.

Orion Space Falls Short of $2 Million Fund-raising Goal

Aurora station (Credit: Orion Span)

SpaceNews reports that commercial space station startup Orion Span raised only a portion of the $2 million it sought through the online investment website SeedInvest.

A copy of the SeedInvest page for Orion Span, archived by SpaceNews hours before the deadline Jan. 25, shows the company raised $225,700 by that point, far short of its public goal of $2 million. A copy of the site captured by the Internet Archive Jan. 26, just after the deadline, says the campaign raised $235,700.

SeedInvest, which says on its website that it accepts only about one percent of the startups who apply to use the site for equity crowdfunding, did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the total amount raised by Orion Span and why the campaign web site was no longer available.

Orion Span also declined to comment on the outcome of the crowdfunding campaign or its future plans. Courtney Merolle, a spokesperson representing the company, said in a Jan. 29 email that “it’s a bit hectic right now and we are going to have to pass on this opportunity” to discuss the fundraising effort.

Orion Span plans to build a private station named Aurora in Earth orbit that would offer stays to tourists.

SpaceX Seeks Approval for Up to 1 Million Earth Stations for Starlink Constellation

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied for permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate up to one million Earth stations to serve its Starlink constellation of 4,425 Ku- and Ka-band communications satellites it plans to begin launching later this year.

“These user terminals employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, steered antenna beams that track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites,” SpaceX said in its application.

The Earth stations would be deployed in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, “including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks,” the company wrote.

“As the Commission has recognized, many communities across the United States and the world still lack access to reliable broadband connectivity, preventing them from fully participating in economic, social, and civic activities,” the application stated.

“To help close this digital divide, SpaceX is designing, constructing, and deploying an innovative, cost-effective and spectrum-efficient satellite system capable of delivering robust broadband service to customers around the world. SpaceX has already secured U.S. authority for the space station components of its NGSO [non-geosynchronous orbit] system,” the document said.

Trump Nominates NASA Goddard Director to Head National Reconnaissance Office

Christopher Scolese

Presidential Nomination

Christopher Scolese of New York, to be the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

Mr. Scolese currently serves as the Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Previously, he served as the associate administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and as NASA’s chief engineer.

Mr. Scolese is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal, the Goddard Outstanding Leadership Medal, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) National Capital Section Young Engineer/Scientist of the Year award.

Hayabusa2 Set to Land on Asteroid Ryugu on Feb. 22

JAXA Hayabusa2 Mission Status Report
(Week of 2019.1.28)

Hayabusa2 returned to the home position (HP) on 1/31 from the BOX-B operation which observed the north pole of Ryugu. At the HP, we carried our regularly performed observations for one rotation period. The distance of the Sun from Ryugu varies from 0.96au to 1.42au (1 au is the average distance between the Sun and Earth, about 150 million km). The angle formed by the Sun, Ryugu and the Earth (equivalent to the SPE angle) also varies from 0 degrees (at the conjunction time) to a maximum of about 40 degrees.

Depending on the current solar distance and solar angle, the characteristics of the reflected sunlight observed by the ONC and the characteristics of the thermal radiation observed by the TIR vary. We therefore observe Ryugu regularly from the HP because it is helpful to acquire data under different observation conditions. The observations on 1/31 were particularly valuable as the Sun’s distance about 1.42 au (near aphelion: the furthest distance) while the SPE angle was 10.1°.

Due to the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Ryugu, the operation start time at the Usuda ground station is now so early that it is before the first train in the morning! The person in charge of operations and “Commander-san” who is responsible for sending commands to the spacecraft, are not able to reach the campus in time, so we first started acquiring telemetry data only from the Usuda station. Then in Sagamihara, we began our command operations a little later. We call operations like this “ripuro-nyukan”, which indicates that the telemetry is received automatically at the beginning of the operation. It is helpful for extremely cold mornings…

JAXA Hayabusa2 Mission Status Report
(Week of 2019.1.21)

This week was the tour or “BOX-B” operation. Here, the spacecraft’s altitude is lowered from the Home Position (HP) by about 2km and shifted towards the north pole by about 9km. We moved slowly over several days, arriving on 1/24. In the previous BOX-B operation, we observed the south pole hemisphere of the asteroid, so this time we moved to observe the north pole region from above.

We stayed at that location for about 1 day to make scientific observations, after which a ΔV (acceleration) was performed and we are now returning to the HP (schedule to arrive at HP on 1/31). Observations were made with all scientific instruments; ONC, TIR, NIRS3 and LIDAR. Working with both the Goldstone and Madrid ground stations, as well as Usuda, we were able to acquire the observational data over the weekend. We also gathered additional valuable data, including a health check for the ONC and dark imaging from the TIR during the tour.

Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.

At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.

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New Horizons’ Images Confirm Ultima Thule’s Highly Unusual, Flatter Shape

As more data of Ultima Thule were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken nearly 10 minutes after closest approach, a “new view” of the object’s shape emerged. Ultima more closely resembles a “pancake,” and Thule a “dented walnut.” (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — An evocative new image sequence from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year’s 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren’t the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come — but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

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Richard Branson Wants to Fly on SpaceShipTwo on Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Richard Branson with the pilots of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson says he wants to fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo as America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” the head of the Virgin group said on the sidelines of an event to honor Virgin Galactic at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Whether a SpaceShipTwo flight on the anniversary of the moon landing will be seen as a fitting tribute to America’s greatest achievement in space or merely a giant PR distraction is uncertain.

Whether they will be able to make that date is equally unclear. SpaceShipTwo Unity is still undergoing flight tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Branson told AFP the next flight is set for Feb. 20, weather permitting.) And practically all of his previous predictions for the start of commercial flights have been proven wrong over the past 14.5 years.

Branson plans to be on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight, which will take place from Spaceport America in New Mexico. His son, Sam, and other passengers are set to be aboard the flights. Perhaps he will take Apollo 11 moon walker Buzz Aldrin, who just turned 89, along with him.

Branson told AFP that Virgin Galactic costs $35 million per month or $420 million per year to operate. He previously estimated he has spent $1 billion to $1.3 billion on the SpaceShipTwo program since it was announced in 2004.

Virgin recently laid off about 40 employees from Virgin Galactic and its sister company, The Spaceship Company.

NASA Seeks US Partners to Develop Reusable Systems to Land Astronauts on Moon

Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on Dec. 13 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028.

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ExoMars Rover Named After Co-Discoverer of DNA Structure

Rosalind Franklin (Credit: Jewish Chronicle Archive/Heritage-Images)

STEVENAGE, UK, February 7, 2019 (UKSA PR) — The UK made ExoMars rover, due to roam the surface of the red planet in 2021, has been named after UK scientist and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA – Rosalind Franklin.

The name was revealed this morning by Science Minister Chris Skidmore and British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake in the ‘Mars Yard’ at Airbus Defence and Space UK in Stevenage, where the rover is being built.

Chris Skidmore, UK Science Minister said:

“It is a tremendously fitting tribute that the rover has been named after Rosalind Franklin as she helped us understand life on Earth and now her namesake will do the same on Mars.

“Just as Rosalind Franklin overcame many obstacles during her career, I hope ‘Rosalind the rover’ will successfully persevere in this exciting adventure, inspiring generations of female scientists and engineers to come.

“This is a big moment for British science and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are embracing this moment as part of our ambition to be the world’s most innovative economy, creating opportunities for business through science.”

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Virgin Galactic, TSC Donate SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor to Smithsonian

SpaceShipTwo motor donated to the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, 7 Feb 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) staff and guests today at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, to announce that the hybrid rocket motor which powered SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to space for the first time on December 13th last year, has been donated to the museum. The rocket motor was unveiled during the ceremony and will be exhibited in the museum’s planned, new commercial space flight gallery to be called ‘Future of Spaceflight.’

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2018 Fourth Warmest Year in Continued Warming Trend, According to NASA, NOAA

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018’s temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

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