ISS National Lab, Boeing Award $500,000 for Microgravity Research Through MassChallenge

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., October 25, 2019 (ISS National Laboratory PR) – The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory and Boeing [NYSE: BA] have partnered for the sixth consecutive year to provide up to $500,000 in grants to innovative startups through the MassChallenge (Boston) startup accelerator program. The two startup companies awarded a 2019 MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize, Encapsulate LLC and Axonis, Inc., will have the opportunity to leverage the microgravity environment onboard the ISS National Laboratory to enhance their products and business models on Earth.

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Elonopoly: Smoke Pot, Collect $5 Million

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s decision to smoke marijuana on the Joe Rogan podcast prompted a review of SpaceX’s workplace culture by NASA and raised questions about whether the entrepreneur would be able to keep his security clearance.

It also somehow resulted in NASA sending more money to Musk’s space company. Politico reports:

The space agency agreed to pay SpaceX $5 million in May to cover the cost of the review, which includes educating its employees and ensuring they are following strict guidelines for federal contractors barring illegal drug use.

The decision, which has not previously been reported, struck some space industry insiders as a highly unusual expenditure given that Musk, who holds a security clearance, prompted the concerns about whether SpaceX is following the rules.

While marijuana is legal in multiple states – including California, where Musk’s stunt took place – it remains illegal under federal law. And illegal drug use is also considered a violation of the terms of a government security clearance.

The NASA contract to SpaceX to pay for the workplace review — a modification to a previous contract to build a space capsule — also marks a new chapter in its ongoing tension with more established rivals like Boeing.

SpaceX is building the Crew Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Flights with astronauts are expected to begin in 2020.

Even though it was Musk who smoked pot, NASA Administrator ordered an similar review of Boeing’s effort to build a commercial crew spacecraft named Starliner.

However, Politico reports Boeing did not get funding to cover the cost of the review.

NASA Commits to Future Artemis Missions With More SLS Rocket Stages

NASA finished assembling the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure. Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank. (Credit: NASA/Steven Seipel)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has taken the next steps toward building Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stages to support as many as 10 Artemis missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

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Boeing Starliner Commercial Crew Delay: ~3 Years

Boeing’s first crewed Starliner finished initial production at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. and is readied for its cross-country trip. (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On March 26, Vice President Mike Pence went to Huntsville, Ala., to declare that the Trump Administration would use “any means necessary” to accelerate the return of American astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024 — four years earlier than planned.

Pence was putting Huntsville-based Marshall Space Flight Center and prime contractor Boeing on notice to get the delayed, over budget Space Launch System (SLS) being built to accomplish that goal back on track. If they didn’t, the administration would find other rockets to do the job.

In his effort to accelerate the Artemis lunar program, however, Pence unintentionally contributed to delays in NASA’s behind schedule effort to launch astronauts to a much closer location: low Earth orbit.

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Virtual Field Trips Take Students Inside NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

By Danielle Sempsrott
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

As NASA begins a new era of space exploration – returning to the Moon and eventually on to Mars – education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects is increasingly important to the future of our nation’s space program. 

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) plays an integral role in the agency’s deep space exploration goals as it works with commercial partners to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on American-built rockets and spacecraft.

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Program Delay: 3+ Years

An instrumented mannequin sits in the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

Updated Oct. 9, 2019 at 9:08 am PDT with paragraph summarizing some of the reasons for the schedule delays.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week or so about NASA’s delay plagued Commercial Crew Program, which is designed to restore the nation’s ability to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.

Prior to SpaceX CEO’s Elon Musk’s Sept. 28 webcast update on the Starship program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed frustration that the company wasn’t more focused on the Crew Dragon program that hasn’t flown astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) yet.

Asked about the delay by a CNN journalist after giving an update on Starship’s progress on Sept. 28, Musk questioned whether Bridenstine was asking about delays at with commercial crew or with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). He laughed and mugged for the camera.

Musk’s rabid fans cheered it to be a sick burn against against a slow-moving space agency. The administrator diplomatically called it not helpful. He also revealed the cause of his pique.

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Boeing to Invest $20 Million in Virgin Galactic

The curvature of the Earth from SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

NEW YORK, Oct. 8, 2019 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] will invest $20 million in Virgin Galactic, a vertically integrated human spaceflight company. The companies will work together to broaden commercial space access and transform global travel technologies.  

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China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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NASA Joins Last of Five Sections for Space Launch System Rocket Stage

NASA finished assembling the main structural components for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure. Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the stage’s liquid hydrogen propellant tank. (Credit: NASA/Steven Seipel)

NEW ORLEANS (NASA PR) — NASA finished assembling and joining the main structural components for the largest rocket stage the agency has built since the Saturn V that sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Engineers at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans connected the last of the five sections of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage on Sept. 19. The stage will produce 2 million pounds of thrust to send Artemis I, the first flight of SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon.

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SpaceX Test Fires Falcon 9 Booster for Crewed Dragon Flight

This is a positive step forward. However, the Dragon spacecraft remains a concern after the explosion of capsule on the test stand in April. I’m told by a very reliable source not to expect the crewed Dragon flight to the International Space Station (ISS) this year.

One of the problems is that SpaceX is scheduled to conduct an in-flight abort test before flying crew. The explosion in April destroyed the capsule intended for the test.

Boeing’s first Starliner flight to ISS could occur in October. That flight would not have a crew aboard. A crewed Starliner flight to the space station is highly unlikely this year.

Khrunichev Center, Boeing Agreed to Continue Zarya ISS Module Operation

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — On August 27, 2019 during the first business day of the MAKS-2019 Air Show the Boeing company and the Khrunichev Center signed an agreement to prolong the contract on the Zarya functional cargo block of the International Space Station.

The companies reached the agreement, according to which the Khrunichev Center will supply the replaceable equipment to the ISS to ensure the Zarya module operation, as well as modernize the design to improve the technical capacities of the module in 2021-2024.

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Commercial Crew Astronauts, Ground Teams Put Emergency Escape Procedures to Test

An emergency medical technician cares for an astronaut with simulated injuries during a joint emergency escape and triage exercise led by NASA, along with Boeing and United Launch Alliance, at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 24, 2019. The simulation is part of a series in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA led a joint emergency escape and triage simulation with Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) on July 24 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station. The exercise ranged from astronauts and support teams quickly escaping the launch pad to emergency personnel practicing rescue and life support procedures focused on the safety of the launch site teams.

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launches AMOS-17, Ship Catches Half of Payload Fairing

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster launched Spacecom’s AMOS-17 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday. The company’s Ms. Tree vessel caught half of the rocket’s payload fairing in a net as it descended under a parachute.

It was the second recovery of a fairing half by the net-equipped ship. A full fairing costs about $6 millions to manufacture.

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SpaceX Set to Launch Communications Satellite Tonight from Cape Canaveral

Falcon 9 lifts off with Iridium Next 41-50 satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Tuesday, August 6 for launch of AMOS-17 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The launch window opens at 6:53 p.m. EDT, or 22:53 UTC, and closes at 8:21p.m. EDT, or 00:21 UTC on August 7. The satellite will be deployed approximately 31 minutes after liftoff.

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Intelsat 29e Failure Tied to External Event

An investigation has pinpointed a space weather event or a micrometeroid strike as the most likely cause of the total failure of the Intelsat 29e communications satellite in April, Spaceflightnow reports.

“The failure review board concluded that the anomaly was either caused by a harness flaw in conjunction with an electrostatic discharge event related to solar weather activity, or the impact of a micrometeoroid,” Intelsat said in a discussion document released Tuesday in conjunction with the company’s second quarter financial numbers.

The board formed to investigate the Intelsat 29e failure included members from Boeing, which built the spacecraft, Intelsat and external independent experts.

Intelsat 29e was launched Jan. 27, 2016, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana for a planned 15-year mission. Based on the Boeing 702MP satellite design, Intelsat 29e was positioned in geostationary orbit at 50 degrees west longitude, where its thrusters kept the satellite parked over the same geographic region, with the spacecraft’s orbital velocity matching the rate of Earth’s rotation.

Intelsat reported the conclusions of the board when reporting its second quarter financial results.

“We recognized an impairment charge of $381.6 million during the three months ended June 30, 2019 relating to the failure of Intelsat 29e,” the company said in a press release.

“The impairment charge consisted of approximately $377.9 million related to the write-off of the carrying value of the satellite and associated deferred satellite performance incentive obligations,and approximately $3.7 million related to prepaid regulatory fees,” the statement added.