NASA Struggles with Shortage of Skilled Workers

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is already hampered by a shortfall of skilled workers, a problem that will be exacerbated as the space agency gears up to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in the Artemis program.

That is the conclusion of a new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The review identified attracting and retaining a highly-skilled workforce as one of the space agency’s seven biggest management and performance challenges. [Full Report]

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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

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GAO: USAF’s Space Command and Control Program Needs Better Oversight

The U.S. Air Force’s effort to modernize and consolidate its space command and control systems into a single comprehensive platform has made progress, but it will need comprehensive planning and oversight to succeed, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The Space C2 program is facing a number of challenges and unknowns, from management issues to technical complexity,” the report to Congressional committees stated. “Additionally, DOD officials have not yet determined what level of detail is appropriate for acquisition planning documentation for Agile software programs. They are also not certain about the best way to provide oversight of these programs but are considering using assessments by external experts….

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GAO Report on SLS/Orion: Making Progress, But….

SLS core stage pathfinder is lifted onto the Stennis B-2 test stand (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office released another depressing review this week of NASA’s Artemis program, specifically looking at the space agency’s progress on the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and the exploration ground systems (EGS) required to support them.

Cristina Chaplain, GAO’s director of Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, summarized the report’s conclusions on Wednesday in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

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Deep Space Systems Files Protest Over NASA CLPs Task Order

The Moon as seen from the International Space Station (Credit: ESA/NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Deep Space Systems has filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over NASA’s decision to award Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts to three rival companies.

On May 31, NASA awarded contracts worth $253.5 million to Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond to carry up to 23 payloads to the moon on three commercial missions scheduled for launch between September 2020 and July 2021.

Deep Space Systems, which is based in Littleton, Colo., filed a bid protest with GAO on June 24. The government watchdog is scheduled to render a decision on the protest on Oct. 2.

The GAO website does not provide any details on the reason for the protest. Deep Space Systems has not responded to requests for comment.

NASA terminated its $97 million contract with OrbitBeyond on July 28 after the company informed the space agency that internal corporate challenges would prevent it from delivering its payloads to the lunar surface in a timely manner. The company had targeted a landing in September 2020.

NASA’s CLPS program pays companies to deliver payloads to the moon rather than having the space agency commission and build its own landers and orbiters. Nine companies are qualified to bid on CLPS task orders.

Boeing, SpaceX Continue to Work Through Technical Challenges on Commercial Crew

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boeing and SpaceX are continuing to work through a number of technical challenges on their commercial crew spacecraft as NASA struggles to process data needed to certify the vehicles, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

There is sufficient schedule uncertainty, in fact, that GAO recommended the space agency continue planning for additional delays in providing crew transport to the International Space Station (ISS).

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GAO Says Artemis 1 Flight Could Slip Amid Rising Costs

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of NASA’s human lunar effort has concluded the Artemis 1 flight could slip to June 2021 as costs continue to rise.

“In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs—the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems—NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely,” the report concluded. “Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021.

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SpaceX Drops Protest Over Contract for Lucy Mission

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has dropped it protest of NASA’s decision to award a launch contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Lucy asteroid mission.

SpaceX did not disclose the reason it withdrew the protest, and a company spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by SpaceNews about the withdrawal. According to GAO’s website, SpaceX filed a separate protest over the same contract March 25, which was also withdrawn April 4. The company also declined to comment on the difference between the two protests.

When it filed the protest in February, SpaceX argued it could perform the same mission for a “dramatically lower” price than the $148.3 million value of the ULA contract. “We believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” a company spokesperson said then. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA said that it was selected in part because it offered schedule assurance for the mission. Lucy must launch during a 20-day window in October 2021 in order to carry out its complex trajectory of flybys of six Trojan asteroids and one in the main asteroid belt. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.











GAO Removes Weather Satellite Program From High-Risk List

This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status. (Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have made “sufficient progress” in mitigating potential gaps in weather data that would have resulted “in less accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events—such as hurricanes and floods.”

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GAO: DOD Needs to Collect & Maintain Better Data on Space Acquisition Workforce

The Department of Defense (DOD) does not routinely monitor the size, mix, and allocation of the 8,000 personnel who are involved in space acquisition activities, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

[Full Report — PDF]

The audit found the DOD’s workforce data systems are not configured to identify personnel working on space acquisition activities across the department’s sprawling bureaucracy.

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GAO: NASA has Regressed on Controlling Costs, Schedule Slips

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has regressed in its efforts to control cost growth and schedule delays on its various high-risk projects, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“Following several years of continuing a generally positive trend of limiting cost growth and schedule delays for its portfolio of major projects, we found that NASA’s average launch delay increased from 7 to 12 months between May 2017 and May 2018,” the report stated. “Further, the overall development cost growth increased from 15.6 percent to at least 18.8 percent over the same time period.”

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SpaceX Protests NASA Contract Award to ULA

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed a protest over NASA’s decision to award an $148.3 million contract to rival United Launch Alliance for the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission.

“NASA has issued a stop work order on the agency’s Lucy mission after a protest of the contract award was filed with the Government Accountability Office,” agency spokesperson Tracy Young said Feb. 13. “NASA is always cognizant of its mission schedule, but we are not able to comment on pending litigation.”

SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. “Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency’s award decisions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

The Government Accountability Office has until May 22 to render a decision.











Boeing Suffers Setback During CST-100 Starliner Abort Test

CST-100 Starliner with Atlas V booster. (Credit: Boeing)

Media are reporting that Boeing suffered a setback recently when testing CST-100 Starliner’s emergency abort system at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here’s an account from The Washington Post:

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said it has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”

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Trump Nominates Senate Staffer for NASA Deputy Administrator

President Donald J. Trump today nominated a long-time Senate staffer who has neither a technical nor scientific background to be the space agency’s deputy administrator.

James Morhard, who is currently the U.S. Senate’s Deputy Sergeant at Arms, was nominated for the position. The decision represents a defeat for NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who had publicly advocated on behalf of Dr. Janet Kavandi, a former astronaut, engineer and analytical chemist who is director of the NASA Glenn Research Center.

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An Update on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program

Two Launches in One Week: On Aug. 14, 2017, a Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the photo on the left. It was carrying a Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. In the image on the right, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug.18, 2017 placing in orbit NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph)

Report to Congressional Committees

Weapon Systems Annual Assessment
Knowledge Gaps Pose Risks to Sustaining Recent Positive Trends

Government Accountability Office
April 2018
Full Report (PDF)

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program

Technology Maturity, Design Stability, and Production Readiness

All but one (14 of 15) of ULA’s launch vehicle variants—which are based on payload fairing size and number of strap-on solid rocket boosters used—and two variants of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 have flown at least once, demonstrating technology maturity. For design stability and production readiness, the program assesses launch vehicles using Aerospace Corporation’s “3/7 reliability rule.” Once a variant is launched successfully three times, its design can be considered stable and mature. Similarly, if a variant is successfully launched seven times, both the design and production process can be considered stable and mature.

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