NASA’s Trash Talk: Managing Garbage in Space

A potential trash management system for future, long-duration space missions, the current version of the Heat Melt Compactor, seen here in its ground configuration, has been tested extensively at NASA’s Ames Research Center. (Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Dealing with trash is a challenge wherever people work and live, and space is no exception. Astronauts produce a couple of pounds of trash per crew member per day. To better manage this, NASA is developing a new trash processing system to demonstrate on the International Space Station. This work is critical for potential future missions traveling farther from Earth, to the Moon and Mars, and for longer periods of time.

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NASA Funds Studies on Commercializing Earth Orbit

The Cygnus cargo craft slowly departs the space station after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — In an ongoing effort to foster commercial activity in space, NASA has selected 13 companies to study the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit, including long-range opportunities for the International Space Station.

The studies will assess the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to best stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight. The portfolio of selected studies will include specific industry concepts detailing business plans and viability for habitable platforms, whether using the space station or separate free-flying structures. The studies also will provide NASA with recommendations on the role of government and evolution of the space station in the process of transitioning U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to non-governmental enterprises.

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Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Concludes Ninth ISS Cargo Supply Mission

From July 15, 2018 when Northrop Grumman’s “S.S. J.R. Thompson” Cygnus spacecraft left the International Space Station after delivering approximately 7,400 pounds of cargo to astronauts on board. The spacecraft successfully concluded its ninth cargo supply mission on July 30. (Credit: NASA)

DULLES, Va., July 30, 2018 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced that its “S.S. J.R. Thompson” Cygnus™ spacecraft successfully completed its ninth cargo supply mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract.

The spacecraft removed more than 6,600 pounds (over 3,000 kilograms) of disposable cargo, a new record for Cygnus. The “S.S. J.R. Thompson” also successfully executed secondary missions that included the demonstration of Cygnus’ ability to reboost the space station and the deployment of six CubeSats into orbit from a NanoRacks CubeSat deployer.

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NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Starts Science Operations

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has started its search for planets around nearby stars, officially beginning science operations on July 25, 2018. TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth. The TESS Science Team will begin searching the data for new planets immediately after the first series arrives.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at Headquarters, Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light. These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission.

Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

For the latest updates on TESS, visit nasa.gov/tess.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Spacecraft Begins Secondary Mission in Space

The Cygnus cargo craft slowly departs the space station after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. (Credit: NASA TV)

DULLES, Va. (Northrop Grumman PR) – July 15, 2018 –Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced that its Cygnus™ spacecraft, following a highly successful stay at the International Space Station, has departed from the station to begin the next phase of its mission.

While docked with the station, Cygnus performed a reboost experiment for the International Space Station demonstrating the spacecraft’s capability to raise the orbiting laboratory’s orbit. The “S.S. J.R. Thompson” is now set to deploy six CubeSats in orbit before reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This mission marks the fifth time that Cygnus has been used for NanoRacks CubeSat deployments during its secondary payload mission phase.

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Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.

There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)

Webb Space Telescope Problems: Excessive Voltage, Wrong Solvent & Loose Nuts

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA)

NASA established the Independent Review Board (IRB) in April to evaluate the space agency’s $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The report, released last month, revealed a number of eye opening details about problems that NASA and the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS), have been experiencing in building the telescope and managing the program. Below are some key excerpts.

Independent Review Board Report
NASA James Webb Space Telescope

Full Report

Selected Excerpts

There have been several JWST Project problems due to human-induced errors that had substantial cost and schedule impact. In one case, an improper solvent was used to clean propulsion system valves that had been stored. The error was a failure to check with the valve vendor to ensure the solvent to be used was recommended and would not damage the valves. The valves had to be removed from the spacecraft, repaired or replaced, and reinstalled.

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James Webb Space Telescope Launch Slips into 2021, Cost Overruns

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

Costs Rise from $8.8 Billion to $9.66 Billion

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on its James Webb Space Telescope has unanimously recommended that development on the world’s premier science observatory should continue; NASA has established a new launch date for Webb of March 30, 2021.

A report issued by the review board addresses a range of factors influencing Webb’s schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.

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Northrop Grumman Closes Orbital ATK Acquisition

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – June 6, 2018 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) today announced it has closed the acquisition of Orbital ATK Inc. (“Orbital ATK”), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. Orbital ATK is now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, a new, fourth business sector.

Northrop Grumman’s board of directors has elected Blake Larson as corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, reporting to Kathy Warden, Northrop Grumman’s president and chief operating officer. Larson previously served as the chief operating officer of Orbital ATK.

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Northrop Grumman Receives FTC Clearance to Close Acquisition of Orbital ATK

  • Combination enhances capabilities, innovation and competition in critical global security domains      
  • Orbital ATK to become Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, a new, fourth business sector
  • Northrop Grumman now expects 2018 sales of approximately $30 billion, EPS of $16.20 to $16.45 and free cash flow1 of $2.3 to $2.6 billion

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – June 5, 2018 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced today that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has cleared Northrop Grumman’s proposed acquisition of Orbital ATK Inc. The FTC’s Bureau of Competition has completed its review of the merger, and the Premerger Notification Office has informed the company that the waiting period under the HSR Act has terminated, allowing the companies to complete the merger.

As part of that clearance, the FTC issued a decision and order providing for solid rocket motors to be available on a non-discriminatory basis under specified circumstances and under processes defined in the order. The company expects to complete the transaction after market close tomorrow and is issuing the following updated guidance. This updated guidance assumes the completion of the transaction tomorrow.

First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

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A Closer Look at National Space Council User’s Advisory Group Nominees


So, I finally had a chance to go through folks that Vice President Mike Pence nominated to serve on the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.

Below is my attempt to break down the 29 nominees by category. It’s far from perfect because several of them could easily be listed under multiple categories. But, here’s my best shot at it.

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Zuma Blame Game Begins

In the wake of the apparently unsuccessful launch of the secret Zuma payload, there is still some confusion about what exactly happened and who is to blame.

The top secret satellite for an unidentified government agency is believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere after failing to separate from the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

However, SpaceX officials say that the Falcon 9 booster performed exactly as planned, so the company is not responsible for any failure that might have occurred.

That would appear to point the finger at Northrop Grumman, which provided the satellite and the adapter that connected it to booster. The company had declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on classified missions.

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SpaceX Says Falcon 9 Performed as Planned on Zuma Launch

Falcon 9 launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has issued a statement concerning the Falcon 9 launch of the classified Zuma payload, which reports say was lost:

For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.

Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule. Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks.

Reports indicate that the satellite’s builder, Northrop Grumman, provided its own payload adapter. So, if the satellite failed to separate from the second stage as reports indicate, the problem lay with the adapter and not the Falcon 9.

The Joint Space Operations Center did enter an object from the launch into its master catalog. That would indicate the satellite did enter orbit; however, it might not still be in orbit.

SpaceX Launches Zuma But Satellite Fate Unknown; Falcon Heavy Rolled Out for Static Fire

Falcon 9 first stage launches Zuma spacecraft (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a secret U.S. military satellite code named Zuma into space on Sunday evening. The company successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral.

However, exactly what happened to the mysterious satellite remains a mystery nearly 24 hours after the launch. SpaceX says an analysis of data indicate the Falcon 9’s second stage performed nominally.

However, there are unconfirmed rumors that the satellite was lost. Rumors include the spacecraft being dead on orbit after separation from Falcon 9’s second stage, or re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere still attached to the stage.

Northrop Grumman, which built the spacecraft, is not commenting on the flight. The identity of the government agency the spacecraft was built for is not known. So, nobody from the government has confirmed whether the launch succeeded or not.

Meanwhile, SpaceX rolled out the first Falcon Heavy booster to Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center today. The company plans to conduct a brief static test of the rocket’s 27 first-stage engines for the first time. The rocket is set to make its maiden flight later this month from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.