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Blue Origin and ULA to Jointly Fund New BE-4 Engine

By Marc Boucher on September 17, 2014 1:27 PM.

United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin Announce Partnership To Develop New American Rocket Engine, Blue Origin

"United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation's premier space launch company, and Blue Origin, LLC, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, announced today that they have entered into an agreement to jointly fund development of the new BE-4 rocket engine by Blue Origin. This new collaboration will allow ULA to maintain the heritage, success and reliability of its rocket families - Atlas and Delta - while addressing the long-term need for a new domestic engine.

"The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level. Two BE-4s will power each ULA booster, providing 1,100,000-lbf thrust at liftoff. "

Marc's Update: I've added the video of the news conference to the press release.

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos's Startup Is Part of Bid to Deliver Astronauts, Wall Street Journal

"Blue Origin LLC, the space-exploration startup Mr. Bezos has been quietly toiling over for years, is part of a team led by Boeing Co. that is expected to soon garner a NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from the international space station, according to people familiar with the matter. The role played in Boeing's bid by Washington-state based Blue Origin, which describes its goal as "developing technologies to enable private human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability," hasn't been disclosed previously."

Keith's note: When I asked today if Blue Origin had been part of Boeing's commercial crew proposal team (one that would use a United Launch Alliance rocket), ULA CEO Tory Bruno said "No". He went on to say that their bid used existing engine capabilities. Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos added later that yesterday's NASA commercial crew announcement and today's engine announcement were totally separate and unrelated.

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Unanswered Commercial Crew Questions

By Keith Cowing on September 17, 2014 8:26 AM.

Boeing, SpaceX to team with NASA on space taxis, CBS

"It also is not yet known whether Congress will appropriate enough money to fund the development of two spacecraft or whether NASA will be forced to down select to a single provider at some point down the road. But Bolden said he was confident Congress will provide the funding necessary to keep SpaceX and Boeing on track for maiden flights in the 2017 timeframe. Congress has appropriated about $2 billion for the commercial crew program since 2011, about a billion dollars less than NASA requested. The agency hopes to get around $800 million for the program in its fiscal 2015 budget."

Boeing and SpaceX Win $6.8 Billion for Apollo-Style Space Taxis, NBC

"NASA officials declined to discuss in detail why they selected Boeing and SpaceX while passing on the Dream Chaser, but said it was a close call. "This wasn't an easy choice, but it's the best choice for NASA and the nation," Bolden said. Lueders said the different amounts set aside for the two companies were based on the amounts proposed by the companies themselves. "Both Boeing and SpaceX proposed to the same set of requirements," she said. "NASA awarded the contracts based on their proposals. It's two contracts to the same requirements."

Keith's note: In summary: NASA does not know if it will have enough money to fund both Boeing and SpaceX, won't tell anyone why or how they made the selections, and gave Boeing $1.6 billion more than they gave to SpaceX to do the same work assigned to SpaceX. Just the sort of questions Congress will be asking.

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CCtCap: Is Boeing More Expensive or is SpaceX Just Cheaper?

By Keith Cowing on September 16, 2014 7:46 PM.

NASA Selects SpaceX and Boeing to Ferry Astronauts to the Space Station, Marc Boucher

"NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion in contracts with Boeing getting the larger share, $4.2 billion and SpaceX getting $2.6 billion for doing what appears the same work. NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders was asked several times by reporters why the difference in the funding allocation but only said it was based on the price submitted by the companies in their proposals."

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NASA Commercial Crew Announcement: Boeing and SpaceX

By Keith Cowing on September 16, 2014 4:05 PM.

NASA to Make Major Announcement Today About Astronaut Transport to the International Space Station

"NASA will make a major announcement today at 4 p.m. EDT regarding the return of human spaceflight launches to the United States. The agency will make the announcement during a news conference from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Keith's note: Moments ago Sen. Bill Nelson was on CNN. When asked what the NASA decision to give commercial crew awards to "Boeing and SpaceX" means, he confirmed that awards were being given to "these two companies".

Boeing-SpaceX Team Split Space Taxi Award, Lawmaker Says, Bloomberg

"Boeing Co. (BA) and Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will share a multibillion-dollar federal contract to help restart U.S. manned spaceflights and reduce reliance on Russian rockets, a congressional leader said. The two companies will split the award being unveiled by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration later today, said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the senior Democrat on the U.S. House Science Committee. NASA is planning an announcement on the program at 4 p.m. in Washington."

Keith's update: Rep. Johnson's PR person says that she never actually said said this. Here is what her office is putting out as a quote: Science Committee Democrats Congratulate Boeing and SpaceX on NASA's CCtCap Awards

Keith's note: It is official: Boeing will get $4.2 billion, SpaceX $2.6 billion.

American Companies Selected to Return Astronaut Launches to American Soil, Charlie Bolden

"While Boeing and SpaceX handle the task of taking our astronauts to the space station, the scientists on Earth and astronauts on the orbiting ISS National Laboratory will continue the groundbreaking research that has been taking place there for almost 14 years now without interruption. They will be able to add to that portfolio with an expanded crew made possible by the arrival of these new spacecraft."

Continue reading: NASA Commercial Crew Announcement: Boeing and SpaceX.

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FAA Relases HSF Recommended Practices Safety Document

By Marc Boucher on September 16, 2014 2:59 AM.

FAA Releases Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety, SpaceRef Business

"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) today released its first Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety document today during the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting.

From the introduction: "The purpose of this document is to provide a compilation of practices that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) believes are important and recommends for commercial human space flight occupant safety. The document is intended to enable a dialogue among, and perhaps consensus of, government, industry, and academia on practices that will support the continuous improvement of the safety of launch and reentry vehicles designed to carry humans."

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Wall Street Journal's Confused Boeing/Blue Origin Stories

By Keith Cowing on September 15, 2014 11:16 PM.

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos's Startup Is Part of Bid to Deliver Astronauts, Wall Street Journal

"The long-secretive space ambitions of Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon.com Inc., suddenly are about to get a lot more public. Blue Origin LLC, the space-exploration startup Mr. Bezos has been quietly toiling over for years, is part of a team led by Boeing Co. that is expected to soon garner a NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from the international space station, according to people familiar with the matter. The role played in Boeing's bid by Washington-state based Blue Origin, which describes its goal as "developing technologies to enable private human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability," hasn't been disclosed previously."

Boeing Takes Lead to Build Space Taxi, Wall Street Journal

"Boeing Co. appears positioned to beat out two smaller rivals for the bulk of a multibillion-dollar NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from orbit, according to government and aerospace-industry officials. An award to Boeing would represent a victory over the newer Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, which had been considered a favorite in many quarters because of its lower costs and nimbler approach. The decision on the development of space taxis will be a milestone for commercial space endeavors, locking in unparalleled authority for contractors to develop and operate vehicles with limited federal oversight. An announcement is expected as early as Tuesday."

Keith's note: Just because something is published in the Wall Street Journal does not mean that it is accurate. The author of these stories has confused two separate stories with each other. Tomorrow's Blue Origin event was scheduled long before NASA even made its CCiCAP decision and would have gone ahead even if NASA had delayed making an announcement - and would have also been made regardless of what NASA will be announcing for CCiCAP.

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FAA's COMSTAC Meeting Could Be Interesting

By Marc Boucher on September 15, 2014 7:25 PM.

Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) Set to Meet, SpaceRef Business

"Some of the items of interest include hearing from Kathy Lueders, NASA's relative new Commercial Crew Program Program Manager, an update from The Honorable Lamar Smith on the Congressional Perspective of the Commercial Space Launch Act, ASTEROIDS Act, and NASA Reauthorization, an update on DARPA's XS-1 and its application to Commercial Space Transportation, and an update from the Department of State regarding the Outer Space Treaty."

"With respect to Kathy Lueders speaking it will be interesting to hear why no commercial crew announcement has been made yet. On the other hand this would be a good opportunity for her to speak should an announcement be made beforehand. And with Lamar Smith scheduled to speak only hours after Kathy it will be interesting to hear his point of view on the status of the Commercial Crew Program irregardless of whether an announcement has been made."

Marc's note: The second day of the meeting will be webcast.

Marc's update: 7:25 PM ET: Twitter reports are circulating that the Commercial Crew announcement will be tomorrow. We have not been able to confirm them. I've also heard there would be two awards which is not what Congress wants. With Lamar Smith speaking shortly after Lueders, this could get interesting.

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CASIS Would Rather Go Golfing Than Do Actual ISS Research

By Keith Cowing on September 15, 2014 5:10 PM.

CASIS and COBRA PUMA GOLF Team Up For Commercial Research Investigation On ISS

"CASIS has been tasked by Congress and NASA to work with new and non-traditional researchers for the development of products, therapies, and services onboard the ISS U.S. National Laboratory," said CASIS President and Executive Director Gregory H. Johnson. "Our partnership with COBRA PUMA GOLF is an excellent example of a truly non-traditional research investigation taking advantage of the microgravity environment to advance knowledge in applied materials science." In June of 2012, CASIS and CPG signed an initial Memorandum of Agreement ..."

Keith's note: Has CASIS actually published or promoted any of the research results from this ongoing golf in space effort? I have seen zero evidence that it has. CASIS loves to promote these vapid press releases that promise - but never deliver - amazing return on NASA's investment via goofy sports tie-ins - yet they ignore actual commercial research such as that being done by Ardbeg on the ISS. And of course, CASIS is so inept that they cannot figure out how to tell people about the weekly ACTUAL ISS research results that NASA puts out as part of its Spaceline updates. What is baffling is why NASA continues to put up with this inadequate performance by CASIS.

- ISS Commercial Research That CASIS Utterly Ignores, earlier post
- An Actual ISS Commercial Experiment that NASA/CASIS Ignores (2012), earlier post
- CASIS Signs Deal with COBRA PUMA GOLF for Research on ISS (2012), earlier post
- CASIS Announces Baseball Raffle in Space, earlier post
- CASIS: It Takes More Than Golf to Utilize the ISS, earlier post
- CASIS Defines Bedtime Stories on ISS as "Major Payload", earlier post
- CASIS Is Still Incapable of Doing Its Job, earlier post

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OIG: NASA NEO Program is Inefficient and Lacks Oversight

By Keith Cowing on September 15, 2014 4:02 PM.

NASA's Efforts to Identify Near-Earth Objects and Mitigate Hazards

"NASA has organized its NEO Program under a single Program Executive who manages a loosely structured conglomerate of research activities that are not well integrated and lack overarching Program oversight, objectives, and established milestones to track progress. In addition, NASA is undertaking NEO-related activities not managed by the Program and not sufficiently integrated into ongoing Program activities. Furthermore, NASA lacks formal agreements or procedures for NEO-related activities it conducts with other Federal agencies and foreign governments and has not taken advantage of possible partnership opportunities. Consequently, managers could not identify the level of resources required to adequately support the Program or explain how activities to which the NEO Program is contributing further Program goals. Even though the Program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA will fall short of meeting the 2005 Authorization Act goal of finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020."

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Leland Melvin, Ron Garan, and Alan Ladwig Have Been Busy

By Keith Cowing on September 15, 2014 11:35 AM.

Spaceship Earth Grants Launches Global Spaceflight Contest

"Spaceship Earth Grants Launches Global Spaceflight Contest - "Spaceship Earth Grants Corp. (SEG), a Public Benefit Corporation, is committed to making the space experience accessible to as many people as possible. SEG offers applicants a chance to travel to space while helping to fund efforts and organizations that are making a significant positive impact on planet Earth. SEG will be providing grants to individuals and organizations that are likewise committed to bettering their communities. For more information, visit spaceshipearthgrants.com.

About Star Harbor Space Training Academy - Star Harbor Space Training Academy will be the first-in-the-world publicly accessible, fully comprehensive and environmentally immersive space training academy. The Star Harbor team is led by CEO Maraia Hoffman and includes former NASA Astronauts Leland Melvin and Ron Garan. More information about Star Harbor will be announced in October."

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KSC Releases Inside KSC Video Feature - Complements Spaceport Magazine

By Marc Boucher on September 14, 2014 2:32 PM.

Inside Kennedy Space Center and Spaceport Magazine, SpaceRef

"NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has released what could be a new regular video feature called Inside KSC. It appears to be a complementary product to the September edition of the KSC Spaceport Magazine."

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Nasty Space Weather Ahead

By Keith Cowing on September 12, 2014 8:20 PM.

ALERT: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 (G3), Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA)

WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater (G3 or Greater), Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA)

"NOAA Scale: G3 or greater - Strong to Extreme

- Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
Induced Currents - Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.
- Spacecraft - Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur.
- Navigation - Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur.
- Radio - HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent.
- Aurora - Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon."

Alerts and related information available at @SpaceWeather

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Disappointed NASA Flight Controller

By Keith Cowing on September 11, 2014 11:05 PM.

Keith's note: @FCTMike publicly tweeted something interesting (that overtly refers to a photo) and NASA Watch told people about it. Its clearly a slow flight controlling day at NASA for @JohnathanKim

Keith's update: The original tweet has apparently been deleted. Indeed, both Twitter accounts - @FCTMike and @JohnathanKim - have apparently been deleted. That is a little strange. That said, you can see what was originally posted. I am not going to post a screen grab.

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Reining in Richard Branson

By Keith Cowing on September 11, 2014 9:38 PM.

Virgin Galactic Delays First Commercial Flights to 2015, Space News

"... That timeline represents a delay from statements Branson made as recently as last month. In an interview with USA Today published Aug. 17, he said he expected to be on that first commercial flight by the end of this year. "I'll be bitterly disappointed if I'm not into space by the end of the year," he said. A Virgin Galactic spokewoman said that, despite Branson's comments, the company has no formal schedule for beginning commercial flights. "As we've stated in the past, the inaugural commercial flight date will be set by safety and readiness," Jessica Gilbert said Sept. 11 via email."

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Why Did NASA SMD Sit on This MSL Science Document?

By Keith Cowing on September 11, 2014 2:00 PM.

Mission to Mt. Sharp - Habitability, Preservation of Organics, and Environmental Transitions
Senior Review Proposal Sections 1 and 2 April 2014

Keith's note: Jim Green just made a point of spelling out the URL for this report. He did so rather defensively in an effort to show that there was a science plan in place for MSL. In the process he sought to minimize the comments made by NASA's own NASA Planetary Senior Review Panel Report wherien the MSL science plan was bluntly criticized. If Green thinks that the Review Panel was wrong on their MSL criticism, then does that not call into question everything else they said? If so why did NASA make funding decisions based on the committee's report?

Looking at the report there are no ITAR or SBU notations. Of course they were removed - or were they? Looking at the document properties [image] it is clear that this document was created on 10 April 2014 and modified on 9 September 2014. Why is it that NASA only voluntarily releases documents like this to defend their actions but they don't just publish them - for all to see - simply because they are interesting? Why didn't NASA release this document when the review committee report first came out? Why wasn't this report mentioned in yesterday's hearing where Green testified - when this topic came up?

Oh yes ... by voluntarily releasing this document NASA SMD has set a new precedent for things that a FOIA request can obtain. They have nulified any "predecisional" claims that they might have once been able to make. Oops.

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NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 16 September 2014

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 16 September 2014 Video in Story

Today: FLame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX)-2 Operations: Gerst removed the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) alignment guides, isolating the rack and allowing ground teams to conduct another FLEX-2 test point via ground commanding.

More updates...

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