GAO: NASA Performance on Major Projects Continues to Deteriorate

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of NASA’s major projects at the end of April. It found that NASA’s performance on its major projects continued to deteriorate on cost and schedule. (Full Report)

Below are key excerpts from the report that provide an overview of where NASA stands on its major projects. Although GAO did not analyze the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon, the watchdog warned the Trump Administration’s decision to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024 will put more pressure on the space agency.

“Looking ahead, NASA will continue to face significant cost and schedule risks as it undertakes complex efforts to return to the moon under an aggressive time frame,” the report stated.

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Trump Administration Formally Asks FCC to Reconsider Ligado Decision

The Trump Administration has formally requested that the Federal Communications Commission reconsider its approval to Ligado to construct a nationwide mobile broadband network that it says “will cause irreparable harms to federal government users of the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

The National Telecommunications and Information
Administration (NTIA) filed the appeal to rescind the approval on behalf of the Trump Administration, particularly the departments of Defense (DOD) and Transportation (DOT).

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Senate Committee Approves Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA might finally get a permanent — if that is the right word –administrator more than three years into President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination of Neil Jacobs to become under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, a position that includes serving as NOAA administrator.

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WFIRST Continues to Make Progress Despite Cancellation Attempts

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) continues to making steady progress toward an October 2026 launch despite the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to cancel it, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Europa Clipper Faces Delay Due to SLS Booster Decision

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Europa Clipper orbiter could be placed in storage for two years awaiting a ride to Jupiter’s icy moon at a cost of $250 million due to Congress’ insistence that it be flown aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), according to a new review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The cost estimate assumes that the Europa orbiter will be ready for launch in July 2023. It would be placed in storage until launch aboard a SLS in September 2025.

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House Science Committee Leaders Johnson, Horn Criticize NASA Human Landing System Awards

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) — Yesterday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX have been awarded contracts to design and develop Artemis program human landing systems, one of which NASA plans to use for a 2024 lunar landing.

“I am troubled that NASA has decided to ignore congressional intent and instead press forward with Human Landing System awards to try to meet an arbitrary 2024 lunar landing deadline,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As the Apollo program showed us, getting to the Moon and back safely is hard. The multi-year delays and difficulties experienced by the companies of NASA’s taxpayer-funded Commercial Crew program—a program with the far less ambitious goal of just getting NASA astronauts back to low Earth orbit—make clear to me that we should not be trying to privatize America’s Moon-Mars program, especially when at the end of the day American taxpayers—not the private companies—are going to wind up paying the lion’s share of the costs. I want our Nation to pursue the inspiring goals of returning to the Moon and then heading to Mars, but we need to do it sensibly and safely while we also protect the interests of the tax paying public.”

“America’s human space exploration program has inspired generations and led to discovery, development, and innovation,” said Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK). “Returning humans to the Moon safely is an important and worthy endeavor for our nation. It is also a challenging one that requires significant investment of taxpayer dollars to achieve. I was disappointed to see that NASA’s decision on lunar landing systems development starkly contrasts the bipartisan House NASA Authorization bill and the advice of experts on minimizing risk and ensuring the highest likelihood of success in landing humans on the Moon.”

“Unfortunately, more than a year after their announcement to accelerate the Artemis program, NASA has yet to provide Congress a transparent architecture and technical and cost assessment, despite our repeated requests. The American taxpayer deserves to know their money is being spent wisely, especially if they are being asked to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a private lunar landing system. Our nation should dream boldly and pursue aspirational goals but we have to do so thoughtfully and intentionally. I look forward to working with NASA in good faith to steer our nation’s space program in a direction that allows our country to achieve inspiring goals and explore space in a responsible and measured way.”

Rubio, Blumenthal Urge NASA to Expand Partnerships With Private Sector to Support Lunar Exploration

Sen. Marco Rubio

MIAMI (Marco Rubio/Richard Blumenthal PR) — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged NASA Administrator James Bridenstine to expand partnerships with the private sector to support the Artemis program and NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program. In the letter, the senators highlight the importance of continued lunar exploration to support the goal of developing a sustainable presence on the Moon. 

“Under your leadership, the Artemis program will help our space industry validate human safety protocols, learn to use the Moon’s vast resources, and undertake meaningful technology development and demonstration in support of the next giant leap to Mars.” the senators wrote. “While the scale of these undertakings is significant, NASA has at its disposal a diverse and growing private, domestic space industry. Indeed, America’s commercial space industry is a key enabler of our nation’s endeavor to return to the Moon and journey on to Mars”

The full text of the letter is below. 

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House Members Ask FCC To Delay Action on Orbital Debris Rules

Distribution of space debris around Earth (Credit: ESA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay action on new orbital debris mitigation rules planned for Thursday.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, the immense effort undertaken to recover from the pandemic, and the potential for the FCC’s proposal to exacerbate impacts on U.S. industry and international competitiveness at a critical period in our nation’s history, we hope that you will agree to postpone future action,” the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai read.

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Russians Accuse Trump Administration of Attempting to Seize Territories on Other Worlds

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation,” said Roscosmos Deputy Director General on International Cooperation Sergey Saveliev.

“The history knows examples of a country starting to seize territories for its own benefit – everyone remembers the outcome,” he added.

On April 6, 2020 US President Donald Trump signed an executive order supporting commercial mining on the Moon and other celestial bodies, pursuing US administration object to any attempt to view outer space as a global commons. The text of the document was published by the White House press office.

NASA Science Keeps the Lights On

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Across NASA’s many missions, thousands of scientists, engineers, and other experts and professionals all over the country are doing what they do best, but now from home offices and via video conferencing. With most personnel supporting missions remotely to keep onsite staff at a minimal level in response to COVID-19, the Agency is moving ahead strongly with everything from space exploration to using our technology and innovation to help inform policy makers.  

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NASA is Part of COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium

WASHINGTON (Trump Administration PR) — The White House announced the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide with access to the world’s most powerful high performance computing resources that can significantly advance the pace of scientific discovery in the fight to stop the virus.

“America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine. We thank the private sector and academic leaders who are joining the federal government as part of the Trump Administration’s whole-of-America response,” said Michael Kratsios, U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

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AIA CEO Urges American Leaders to Protect Aerospace Workforce

Arlington, Va., March 18, 2020 (AIA PR)  — Today, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President and CEO Eric Fanning released the following statement, which sets a path forward to ensure the resilience of the industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. AIA represents more than 300 companies and the industry’s 2.5 million workers — ranging from multinational prime contractors to family-owned businesses.

“Unprecedented challenges present unprecedented opportunities for America’s leaders to work together to support our country’s economic and national security. Few industries are more inextricably linked to our nation’s continued success and global competitiveness than aerospace and defense. Our people, products, and common supply chain help to power our economy and to provide our warfighters—many of whom are currently deployed—the world-class capabilities and tools they need to defend our nation’s security.

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Artemis I Launch Delayed to Mid- to Late 2021

SLS core stage installation (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurcyk said on Friday that the first Artemis mission to the moon will not launch later this year but will hopefully fly in the mid- to late 2021 time frame.

It marks yet another delay in a program that is already running years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. The slip potentially makes the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon in 2024 more difficult to achieve.

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Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

Diagram of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

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