Significant Commercial Crew Challenges Ahead for Boeing, SpaceX & NASA


Key Excerpts from

NASA Commercial Crew Program:
Continued Delays Pose Risks for Uninterrupted Access to the International Space Station

Government Accountability Office
[Full Testimony]

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Space,
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology,
House of Representatives
Statement of Cristina T. Chaplain Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
January 17, 2018

Space X Risks

Dragon 2 wledment and heat shield. (Credit: SpaceX)

Similar to our findings in February 2017, our ongoing work indicates that the Commercial Crew Program’s top programmatic and safety risks for SpaceX, are in part, related to ongoing launch vehicle design and development efforts.

(more…)

First Commercial Flights to ISS Slide Toward 2020


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Early in the classic police comedy, The Naked Gun, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is at the hospital with partner Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) visiting the critically wounded Officer Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), who had been shot and left for dead by a group of heroin smuggling thugs.

“Doctors say that Nordberg has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that,” Ed tells Frank.

A similar scene played out Wednesday morning during the House Space Subcommittee’s hearing on the progress of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Only it wasn’t nearly as funny.

(more…)

Science & Technology Experiments Returned on Dragon

Dragon capsule after recovery. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Jan. 13, west of Baja California, with approximately 4,100 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach, California, where some cargo will be removed immediately for return to NASA. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for final processing.

(more…)

NASA Audit Says CASIS Under Performing on Key ISS Research Tasks

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The organization NASA hired to manage research aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has seriously under performed on the majority of its tasks, a new  audit from space agency’s Inspector General finds.

“Of the nine performance categories we assessed, CASIS met expectations in only two: research pathways and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education,” the report states. “For example, the STEM education performance category required CASIS to increase interest in using the National Lab as a platform for STEM education. CASIS met expectations for this performance category by funding 14 STEM education programs in FY 2016 with more than 325,000 participants.”

(more…)

House Space Subcommittee Hearing On Commercial Crew Status Scheduled


House Subcommittee on Space Hearing

An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittees: Subcommittee on Space (115th Congress)

Hearing Purpose

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the NASA’s two  commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station

Witnesses:

  • Mr. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA
  • Mr. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Commercial Programs, Boeing Space Exploration
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
  • Ms. Cristina Chaplain, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Patricia Sanders, chair, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

NASA Deep Space Exploration Systems Look Ahead to Busy 2018


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Engineers preparing NASA’s deep space exploration systems to support missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond are gearing up for a busy 2018. The agency aims to complete the manufacturing of all the major hardware by the end of the year for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which will pave the road for future missions with astronauts.

Planes, trains, trucks and ships will move across America and over oceans to deliver hardware for assembly and testing of components for the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket while teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida prepare the Ground Systems infrastructure. Testing will take place from the high seas to the high skies and in between throughout the year and across the country, not only in support of EM-1, but also for all subsequent missions.
(more…)

NASA Commercial Crew Flights Slip Slide Toward 2019

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Eric Boe evaluate Crew Dragon controls. (Credit: NASA)

Crucial flight tests for NASA’s two commercial crew vehicles are slipping ever closer to 2019. The space agency released the following updated schedules for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicles today:

Targeted Test Flight Dates

Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018

Boeing’s schedule has not changed from the previous update. SpaceX’s demonstration flights have slipped from April and August to August and December, respectively. No reasons have been given for the slips.

A reliable source tells Parabolic Arc that SpaceX experienced a delay several months ago due to issues with Dragon 2’s environmental control and life support system (ECLSS). The problem was estimated to delay the first demonstration flight about six months. At about that same time, the schedule for that first uncrewed flight slipped from February to April.

A SpaceX spokeswoman would not comment for the record on this report.

Branson’s Autobiography: After SpaceShipTwo’s Loss the Blame Game Began

Nitrous oxide and cabin atmosphere vent from the disintegrating SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 3 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

On the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, a nightmarish vision that had haunted me for months became a real-life disaster in the skies over the Mojave Desert. SpaceShipTwo dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, lit its engine and appeared to explode. Pieces of the space plane then began to rain down all over the desert.

The motor had exploded. Or the nitrous oxide tank had burst. At least that’s what I and two photographers – whose pictures of the accident would soon be seen around the world – thought had occurred as we watched the flight from Jawbone Station about 20 miles north of Mojave.

We really believed we had seen and heard a blast nine miles overhead, the photos appeared to show one, and it was the most plausible explanation at the time.

We were wrong. More than two days after the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that co-pilot Mike Alsbury had prematurely unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s feather system during powered ascent. The ship hadn’t blown up, it had broken up as the twin tail booms reconfigured the vehicle with the engine still burning at full thrust.
(more…)

NASA to Discuss New Space Fission Power System on Thursday

Mars fission power system concept. (Credit: NASA)

LAS VEGAS (NASA PR) — NASA and its partners will host a news conference at noon EST (9 a.m. PST) Thursday, Jan. 18, at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, to discuss a recent experiment involving a new power source that could provide the safe, efficient and plentiful energy needed for future robotic and human space exploration missions.

Audio of the news conference and presentation slides will stream live on NASA’s website.

Representatives from NASA, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Los Alamos National Laboratory and Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) will discuss and take questions on the Kilopower project, which aims to demonstrate space fission power systems technology that has the potential to enable future crewed surface missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Testing began in November 2017 and is expected to continue through March.

The news conference participants will be:

  • Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate
  • Angela Chambers, manager of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Criticality Safety Program
  • Mark Martinez, president of Mission Support and Test Services, LLC, which manages and operates the Nevada National Security Site for the NNSA
  • Janet Kavandi, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center
  • Lee Mason, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage
  • Pat McClure, Kilopower project lead at Los Alamos
  • Marc Gibson, Kilopower lead engineer at Glenn Research Center
  • Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at Los Alamos

Members of the public also can ask questions during the briefing on social media using #AskNASA.

Supporting images and video will be available online at:

https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/kilopower

The Kilopower project is part of NASA’s Game Changing Development program and is led by the agency’s Glenn Research Center, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Los Alamos, NNSS and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

NASA Unveils Logo for 60th Anniversary

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2018, NASA will mark the 60th anniversary of its establishment as a U.S. government agency. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed NASA’s founding legislation, the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, on July 29, 1958. NASA considers its birthday to be Oct. 1, the day the agency opened for business.

NASA has released an official logo for use in observing this milestone anniversary. Created by NASA graphic artist Matthew Skeins, the logo depicts how NASA is building on its historic past to soar toward a challenging and inspiring future.

“NASA” and “60” are stacked, bold and tall, atop the continental United States, the curvature of Earth, and the light of an approaching dawn. This placement captures the spirit of a metaphor about knowledge and discovery, often attributed to 17th century physicist Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Similarly, NASA was built from the legacy and expertise of giants in government-sponsored research and development, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the Naval Research Laboratory, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

(more…)

Administration Resubmits Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The Trump Administration has resubmitted the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as administrator of NASA. The administration also submitted the name of Jeffrey DeWit to serve as the space agency’s chief financial officer.

Bridenstine had a contentious confirmation hearing last year before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which narrowly confirmed the nomination along party lines. The re-submission of his nomination was a routine matter because the full Senate failed to vote on the nomination before the year ended.

Democrats criticized Bridenstine over his positions on Earth science research, global warming and various social issues. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has expressed opposition to Bridenstine, saying they have concerns about placing a politician in charge of an agency that has enjoyed bi-partisan support.

Republicans enjoy a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence has the power to break 50-50 ties.

Generation Orbit & NASA Complete GO1-ITA Captive Carry Flight Test Program

C-20a with the GO1-ITA mounted beneath it. (Credit: Generation Orbit)

ATLANTA, January 8, 2018 (GO PR) – Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) has completed the GO1 Inert Test Article captive carry flight test program. Under a public-private partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, GO developed the GO1-ITA, a mass properties and outer mold line simulator for the GO1 hypersonic flight testbed and earned NASA airworthiness approval for flight on NASA’s C-20a.
(more…)

Richard Branson’s Latest Memoir Gets Lost in Space

SpaceShipTwo Enterprise after being released for its final flight on Oct. 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mogul’s Account of Virgin Galactic Most Revealing for What It Doesn’t Say

Part 1 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

One day in mid-2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Alex Tai wandered into a hangar at Mojave Airport and discovered SpaceShipOne, a  suborbital rocket plane that Scaled Composites’ Founder Burt Rutan was secretly building to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.

The chance discovery would eventually solve separate problems the famed aircraft designer and Tai’s boss, Richard Branson, were trying to solve. Rutan’s spaceship was being funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who wanted to win the prize but had no plans to finance a commercial follow-on spacecraft.

Four years earlier, Branson had registered a new company named Virgin Galactic Airways and set off in search of someone to build a vehicle capable of carrying passengers into space. Those efforts had come to naught until Tai made his discovery at the dusty airport in California’s High Desert.

(more…)

Video: NASA Remembers Moonwalker, Shuttle Commander John Young

Video Caption: Astronaut John Young, who walked on the Moon during Apollo 16 and commanded the first space shuttle mission, has passed away at the age of 87.

He is the only person to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs and was the first to fly into space six times — or seven times, when counting his liftoff from the Moon during Apollo 16.

NASA Mourns Astronaut John Young

Astronaut John Young salutes the flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Astronaut John Young, who walked on the Moon during Apollo 16 and commanded the first space shuttle mission, died Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, at the age of 87 from complications of pneumonia. Young began his impressive career at NASA in 1962, when he was selected from among hundreds of young pilots to join NASA’s second astronaut class, known as the “New Nine.”

“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.

(more…)