Launch of James Webb Space Telescope “High Likely” to be Delayed Past October

The James Webb Space Telescope previously deployed its primary mirror in March 2020. Its folded sunshield is also visible in this image. (Credits: Northrop Grumman)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is “highly likely” to be delayed beyond its planned Oct. 31 launch due to anomalies with the European Ariane 5 booster that will send the giant observatory into deep space, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). [Full Report]

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Blue Origin Challenges NASA Human Lunar Landing System Award to SpaceX

Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Blue Origin)

The New York Times reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has challenged NASA’s decision to award a $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop the Human Landing System designed to return astronauts to the moon as part of the space agency’s Artemis program.

Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said NASA’s decision was based on flawed evaluations of the bids — misjudging advantages of Blue Origin’s proposal and downplaying technical challenges in SpaceX’s. He also said NASA had placed a bigger emphasis on bottom-line cost than it said it would.

“It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,” Mr. Smith said in an interview. “They’re generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon. We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied.”

He added that in any case, the space agency should have stuck with a desire it had stated many times, of wanting to hand out awards to two companies.

Blue Origin’s National Team included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Dynetics was the other unsuccessful bidder to submit a proposal.

SpaceX won the contract with a proposal that will use a version of the company’s Starship vehicle, which is currently undergoing testing in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Government Accountability Office will now review the award and render a decision.

NASA’s Costly Toxic Legacy: Space Agency Faces at Least $1.9 Billion in Environmental Liabilities

Santa Susana Field Laboratory in California.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA faces at least $1.9 billion in environmental clean up and restoration costs at its far-flung network of centers, an amount that has increased $724 million, or 61 percent, since 2014, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

While five of 14 centers where chemical contamination exists have decreased their cleanup liability, other centers such as Kennedy Space Center, Ames Research Center and the White Sands Test Facilities have seen increased costs from 2014 to 2019.

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SpaceX, L3Harris Win Space Development Agency Awards After Unsuccessful Challenges

National Defense Space Architecture tracking layer. (Credit: Department of Defense)

The Space Development Agency has reaffirmed its decision to award contracts to build missile warning satellites to L3Harris and SpaceX following unsuccessful appeals by rival bidders.

L3Harris and SpaceX will each build four satellites to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles as part of the agency’s Tracking Layer Tranche 0 program. L3Harris received a $193.5 million contract while SpaceX’s contract is worth $149 million.

The Space Development Agency awarded the contracts in October. However, the agency placed issued temporary stop-work orders after Airbus and Raytheon filed protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

SpaceNews reports that the Space Development Agency agreed to reevaluate the selection process in response to the protests. The second review reaffirmed the original decision to award the contracts to L3Harris and SpaceX. GAO has dismissed the protests filed by Airbus and Raytheon.

GAO: NASA Needs to Improve Artemis Management as New Schedule Delays Likely

Gateway with Orion over the Moon (Credit: ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA needs to strengthen its management oversight of the lunar landing program to minimize delays and cost overruns as the space agency moves beyond the Artemis I flight test scheduled for November 2021, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO’s program review also found that schedule for the maiden flight of the Space Launch System and second Orion spacecraft does not account for delays resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

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Report: Loverro Feared 2024 Moon Landing Would be Imperiled by Boeing Contract Protest

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

A former senior NASA official violated procurement regulations in his dealings with Boeing out of fear the company could delay the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, The Washington Post reports.

The Post reports that NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Doug Loverro reached out to Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton in February to tell the company it would not win a study contract for the Human Landing System, a vehicle that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The call came at a time when NASA was not to contact any of the bidders.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned in May, wanted to find out if Boeing planned to protest its loss. If so, NASA would need to issue stop work orders to the winning bidders until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on the protest. GAO reviews usually take months.

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Airbus, Raytheon Protest SDA Contract Awards to SpaceX & L3Harris

National Defense Space Architecture tracking layer. (Credit: Department of Defense)

Raytheon and Airbus US Space and Defense have filed formal protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) decision to award contracts worth $342.5 million to L3Harris Technologies and SpaceX to build eight missile warning satellites.

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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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Report: USAF Early Warning Satellite System Faces Challenges

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An U.S. Air Force project to launch advanced missile warning satellites faces multiple challenges as it seeks to meet a “highly aggressive and high risk” schedule for a first launch in 2025, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared
(Next Gen OPIR) Block 0 consists of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit built by Lockheed Martin and two spacecraft in polar orbit built by Northrop Grumman.

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NASA Laser Communications Project Running Behind Schedule, Over Budget

Laser Relay Data Demonstration project (Credit: Universities Space Research Association)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A NASA project to demonstrate advanced optical laser communications in space is running nearly $50 million over budget and 14 months behind schedule, according to a recent assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) project is designed to advance optical communication technology for use on near-Earth and deep space missions.

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Over Budget Restore-L Mission 3.5 Years From Launch

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s $1 billion Restore-L mission to refuel the aging Landsat 7 satellite is running about $300 million over budget and almost three years behind schedule, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The project’s woes have included a shortage of both funding and skilled personnel as well as the addition of a new instrument with immature technology to the satellite servicing spacecraft.

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DART Mission To Deflect Asteroid Moves Toward Early 2022 Launch

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s planetary defense mission to deflect a small asteroid continues to move toward a February 2022 launch date while holding to its $313.9 million budget, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will fly to the binary asteroid Didymos and impact the smaller of the two bodies to assess techniques for deflecting dangerous asteroids on collision courses with Earth.

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Landsat 9 Remains on Schedule for Late 2021 Launch

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

If all goes well, an Atlas V booster will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in November 2021 with the newest satellite in the U.S. government’s almost half century old Landsat Earth observation program.

The Landsat 9 remains on schedule and within its $885 million budget despite prime contractor Northrop Grumman experiencing ongoing delays in spacecraft electronics fabrication, flight software and systems integration, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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