NASA’s Efforts to Shrink Agency Lagging

NASA’S Efforts to “Rightsize” its Workforce, Facilities,
and Other Supporting Assets
[Full Report — PDF]

Office of Inspector General
March 21, 2017

Why We Performed This Audit

To accomplish its diverse scientific and space exploration missions, NASA relies on specialized facilities and infrastructure, unique equipment and tools, and a highly skilled civil servant and contractor workforce. These assets, collectively known as technical capabilities, are spread across NASA’s 10 Centers and include more than 5,000 buildings and other structures, 17,000 civil servants, and tens of thousands of contractors. Over the years, striking the right balance among these various assets has been a top management challenge, with the Agency making a number of mostly unsuccessful attempts at “rightsizing” its technical capabilities.

(more…)

Trump Signs NASA Authorization Act

President Donald Trump has signed a NASA authorization act that calls for spending $19.5 billion by the space agency in fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure stipulates the following funding levels for the space agency:

  1. Exploration, $4,330,000,000.
  2. Space Operations, $5,023,000,000.
  3. Science, $5,500,000,000.
  4. Aeronautics, $640,000,000.
  5. Space Technology, $686,000,000.
  6. Education, $115,000,000.
  7. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, $2,788,600,000.
  8. Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, $388,000,000.
  9. Inspector General, $37,400,000.

(more…)

COBALT Flight Demonstrations Fuse Technologies to Gain Precision Landing Results


Team members from the NASA COBALT team and the Masten Xodiac team hold a pre-campaign TIM (Technical Interchange Meeting) to iron out remaining technical hurdles and operations logistics in preparation for the COBALT payload integration onto Xodiac for the open-loop flight testing. The image is taken in the Masten Xodiac hangar, and Xodiac is in the background. The COBALT payload sits atop Xodiac in the empty payload frame. (Credit: NASA)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many regions in the solar system beckon for exploration, but they are considered unreachable due to technology gaps in current landing systems. The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, conducted by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, could change that.

Through a flight campaign this month through April, COBALT will mature and demonstrate new guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) technologies to enable precision landing for future exploration missions.

(more…)

NASA Selects New Research Teams to Further Solar System Exploration Research

This composite color full-disk visible image of the Western Hemisphere was captured from NOAA GOES-16 satellite at 1:07 pm EST on Jan. 15, 2017 and created using several of the 16 spectral channels available on the satellite’s sophisticated Advanced Baseline Imager. The image, taken from 22,300 miles above the surface, shows North and South America and the surrounding oceans. (Credits: NOAA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — In an effort to advance basic and applied research for lunar and planetary science, and advance human exploration of the solar system through scientific discovery, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute or SSERVI. The institute fosters collaborations with science and exploration communities, which enables cross-disciplinary partnerships with research institutions, both domestic and abroad.

NASA has selected four new research teams to join the existing nine teams in SSERVI to address scientific questions about the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and their near space environments, in cooperation with international partners.

(more…)

Trump Proposes Broad Range of Environmental, Energy and Health Cuts

Credit: NASA

If anyone had the slightest hope that Donald Trump might spare global warming research in his proposed spending plan, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stuck a knife through it during a contentious press conference on Thursday.

“As to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward saying we’re not spending money on that anymore,” he said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

(more…)

Symphonizing the Science: NASA Twins Study Team Begins Integrating Results

Identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly, are the subjects of NASA’s Twins Study. Scott (left) spent a year in space while Mark (right) stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers are looking at the effects of space travel on the human body. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — It begins with one instrument. Then another joins in. Before you know it a grand symphony is playing before your eyes. NASA Twins Study researchers are eager to integrate their results and create a symphony of science.

Preliminary findings were discussed during the Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop in January, and now enthusiasm abounds as the integration process begins. The investigators are a unique group of researchers with different expertise associated with genetic and physiological areas of study. (more…)

Astronauts Deploy Experimental Exo-Brake Satellite From ISS

TechEdSat-5 is deployed from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (NASA PR) — After a two-month stay aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Technology Educational Satellite (TechEdSat-5) that launched Dec. 9, 2016, was deployed on March 6, 2017 from the NanoRacks platform and into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a critical technology that may allow safe return of science payloads to Earth from space.

Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth, the Exo-Brake, a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-shaped parachute, opens from the rear of the small satellite to increase the drag. This de-orbit device tests a hybrid system of mechanical struts and flexible cord with a control system that warps the Exo-Brake. This allows engineers to guide the spacecraft to a desired entry point without the use of fuel, enabling accurate landing for future payload return missions.

Two additional technologies will be demonstrated on TechEdSat-5. These include the ‘Cricket’ Wireless Sensor Module, which provides a unique wireless network for multiple wireless sensors, providing real time data for TechEdSat-5.

The project team seeks to develop building blocks for larger scale systems that might enable future small or nanosatellite missions to reach the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies in the solar system.

For more information on NASA’s small spacecraft technology missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/cubesats

Kennedy’s Multi-User Spaceport Streamlines Commercial Launches

Credit: NASA

By Frank Ochoa-Gonzales
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

In the past, launch pads were used almost exclusively for government missions. To support a growing private sector space economy, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has transformed to a multi-user spaceport capable of handling the needs of a variety of companies from launch processing through recovery. NASA, the FAA, and Air Force Space Command provide diverse launch operations, government and commercial, enabled by the Commercial Space Launch Act.  These agencies are working together to simplify the steps to certify commercial launches from Kennedy Space Center’s multi-user spaceport.

(more…)

NASA Acting Administrator Statement on Proposed Budget

Robert Lightfoot

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 agency budget proposal:

“The President mentioned in his speech to both houses of Congress that, ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ NASA is already working toward that goal, and we look forward to exciting achievements that this budget will help us reach.

(more…)

Trump Proposes Shutting off DSCOVR’s Cameras

This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. (Credits: NASA/NOAA)

Donald Trump’s first budget proposal terminates three NASA Earth science missions now under development: Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 3 (OCO-3), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE).

It also “terminates” the “Earth-viewing instruments” on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft, a joint NASA-NOAA project that monitors the Earth, the solar wind and space weather from a location 1 million miles from Earth.

(more…)

Proposed Budget Maintains Funding for Current Gen Weather Satellites

The Trump Administration’s proposed Commerce Department budget maintains funding for the development of NOAA’s current generation geostationary and polar orbiting weather satellites.  However, the follow-on polar orbiting program appears to be delayed.

“Achieves annual savings from NOAA’s Polar Follow On satellite program from the current program of record by better reflecting the actual risk of a gap in polar satellite coverage, and provides additional opportunities to improve robustness of the low earth orbit satellite architecture by expanding the utilization of commercially provided data to improve weather models,” the blueprint states.

(more…)

NASA Selects 5 Space Transportation Projects for SBIR Phase II Funding

NASA has selected five propulsion projects for phase 2 funding under its Small Business Innovation Business (SBIR) program. The space agency will enter into negotiations with the five companies on contracts worth up to $750,000 over two years.

Three of the projects involve technology for the storage and transfer of cryogenic propellants in space. The other two projects would fund development of nuclear systems.

The selected projects include:

  • Lightweight, High-Flow, Low Connection-Force, In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Coupling — Altius Space Machines, Inc, Broomfield, CO
  • Innovative Stirling-Cycle Cryocooler for Long Term In-Space Storage of Cryogenic Liquid Propellants — Converter Source, LLC, Athens, OH
  • Proposal Title: A High Efficiency Cryocooler for In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Storage — Creare, LLC, Hanover, NH
  • Joining of Tungsten Cermet Nuclear Fuel — Plasma Processes, LLC, Huntsville, AL
  • Accident Tolerant Reactor Shutdown for NTP Systems — Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, Los Alamos, NM

(more…)

NASA Selects In-Situ Resource Utilization SBIR Phase II Projects

NASA has selected two proposals related to in-situ resource utilization for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency will enter into negotiations with two companies for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The selected proposals include:

  • In-Situ Ethylene and Methane Production from CO2 as Plastic Precursors — Opus 12, Inc., Berkeley, CA
  • Extraterrestrial Metals Processing — Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood, CO

(more…)

NASA Selects 10 CubeSat-Related Projects for SBIR Phase 2 Funding

Pathfinder technology demonstrator CubeSat (Credit: NASA)

NASA has selected 10 CubeSat-related projects for funding under its most recent round of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects. The space agency will enter into negotiations with the proposers for Phase II contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

(more…)

NASA Mission Named ‘Europa Clipper’

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

PASADENA, Cailf. (NASA PR) — NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.

The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.

(more…)