Letter to NASA Administrator Bolden from House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Republicans, 27 August 2014
"Will NASA be able to fly the SLS for Exploration Mission-1 in calendar year 2017? If it will not, please explain what has changed since your testimony on April 24, 2013 and whether, during your testimony on March 27, 2014, you were aware that this flight could be delayed beyond calendar year 2017.
Do you stand by your testimony that stated "We have asked for.. .and stated over and over that this is the amount of money that we need to deliver the SLS on the date and time that we said, 2017 for the inaugural mission?" If you do not stand by this testimony, please explain what has changed and how you would update this testimony to more accurately reflect the program's schedule."
"According to the program's risk analysis, however, the agency's current funding plan for SLS may be $400 million short of what the program needs to launch by 2017."
"Moreover, NASA's estimates do not capture the cost of the second flight of the 70-metric ton vehicle during EM-2, the costs of development work that will be necessary to fly the increased 105- and 130-metric ton SLS capabilities, and the costs associated with legacy hardware that will be used for the Orion program. In contrast, best practices for cost estimation call for "cradle to grave" life cycle cost estimates in order to help assess a program's long-term affordability."Categories: Congress, SLS and Orion
Marc's note: Last week I decided to run a poll on who our readers thought would be selected for funding in the next round of NASA's Commercial Crew Program which many expect to be announced tomorrow. The results were surprising at first. I expected, considering the wide variety of readers we have, to have a very close poll. What I didn't expect was the blatant padding of the results for two of the companies.
Until Monday the results were headed to what I was expecting. However at some point on Monday, "block voting" began. The votes were coming from 4 IP addresses. 3 of these IP addresses came Connecticut - specifically from the area around Norwalk (where Boeing has an office). The last IP block was traced to Sierra Nevada Corporation. It should be noted that the poll was setup with cookies so that repeat voting was not allowed. SpaceX votes were distributed across the U.S. and other countries with nothing traceable to a SpaceX office.
So presented here are two poll results. As you can see there was considerable padding of the results, but once the block voting was removed it shows a much closer result.You may interpret this unscientific poll anyway you like.Categories: Commercialization
"Among the things being announced by NASA was that the launch date for the first SLS mission was being slipped to late 2018 from its current 2017 date. But NASA did not want to call it a slip and said that everyone was still working according the schedule they had been working on. Of course this would mean that NASA has spent the fast few years working toward a date 2018 date while telling the world it was focused on 2017. Later in the telecon NASA said that it might launch the first SLS mission in late 2017 or early 2018. So in other words NASA does not actually have a clear idea when it will launch the first SLS mission. You can be certain that it will slip again - well into 2019 before a first launch date is even discussed. But NASA wants you to know that they have 70% confidence in all of their plans at this point. But when asked what the previous level of confidence was they admitted that they had never done the calculation. So were they more - or less confident prior to this? Given that they just slipped their launch date by a year ..."
NASA Commits to SLS Launch Readiness in November 2018, $7 Billion for Development, Space Policy Online
"Gerstenmaier extolled media participating in the teleconference not to get "hung up on the first launch date. ... NASA has been saying that the second SLS launch, EM-2, which will be the first to carry a crew, would take place in 2021, but today Gerstenmaier said 2021 or 2022. The launch rate thereafter is only once "every couple of years," Lightfoot said."
"But as of today, the only actual missions that are covered by NASA's projected budget are three test flights: the December launch of an uncrewed Orion capsule atop a Delta 4 rocket; the first SLS test flight in 2018; and the first crewed test flight around 2021. While the rockets are considered essential to deep space exploration missions like a proposed asteroid visit and eventual flights to Mars, no such missions are currently funded or even in detailed planning."Categories: SLS and Orion
"At the DRC Trials, Valkyrie experienced a "networking issue" that prevented the team from scoring any points. In the garage before the DRC Trials began, everything worked fine. But on the course itself, the JSC Team "could not communicate with the robot at all." They would later discover the culprit: a network traffic shaping tool that they'd added to their code and that ended up blocking data from the operator to the robot. This manifested itself as a "major instability in the control system," preventing the robot from functioning almost completely."
NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post
NASA JSC's Valkyrie Robot Tied For Last Place in DARPA Competition, earlier post
No One is in the Driver's Seat at NASA, earlier post
NASA JSC's Expensive Custom Trailer For Val the Robot, earlier post
"This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018."
"NASA officials will hold a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EDT today to discuss the agency's progress on the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars. The teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's website at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio"Categories: SLS and Orion
NASA Still Won't Look For Existing Life on Mars (update), earlier post
Keith's 31 July note: I obviously expected Jim Green to answer in the same cautious way that NASA has always answered this question - one I have asked again and again for the nearly 20 years. Instead, Green launched into a detailed description of all the things that the Mars 2020 rover could detect that have a connection with life. Much of what he said clearly referred to extant / existing life. Now THAT is cool. To clarify things I sent the following request to NASA PAO "Can the Mars 2020 rover detect extant/existing life on Mars? Will NASA be looking for extant/existing life on Mars?" Let's see how they respond.
Keith's 25 Aug update: Well it has been nearly a month. Dwayne Brown from NASA SMD PAO specifically asked media reps who were on the telecon to send him any questions via email they might have and that he'd get an answer back to them. I haven't heard a thing from him since I sent him the email he requested (wth cc: to SMD management). Either NASA cannot/will not answer this rather simple question or it is not on Dwayne's priority list right now.
Keith's 27 Aug update: I have sent additional requests via email to NASA SMD and PAO. No response.Categories: Astrobiology, Space & Planetary Science
SpaceX Update on AsiaSat 6 Mission
"What we do want to triple-check is whether even highly improbable corner case scenarios have the optimal fault detection and recovery logic. This has already been reviewed by SpaceX and multiple outside agencies, so the most likely outcome is no change. If any changes are made, we will provide as much detail as is allowed under U.S. law."
"The space agency has more than 1,500 public-facing websites and 2,000 intranets, extranets and applications, and the agency's data offerings and holdings are huge. "These guys have probably the most expansive list of Web assets," Ananthanpillai said. "That's one of the reasons why everyone's looking at them for lessons learned.""
"So, NASA is paying to maintain two MSL websites and the web addresses they give out are different than the actual web addresses - but they won't bother to put the actual addresses in press releases. Meanwhile, NASA is paying for 2 (or 3) MER websites - and again the links put in the press release are not the actual website address."Categories: IT/Web
"If we take a look at the relevant section of the federal space program, we will see that the Russian Academy of Sciences is the ISS project customer. Our American partners have said many times they wished to continue the ISS operations after 2020. When they heard our leaders saying that Russia wanted to close down the project in 2020, they fostered the interaction with scientists and made interesting propositions of works in the period after 2020. A yearlong mission of a U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut to the ISS is scheduled for 2015," the Roscosmos source told Izvestia. He said the Americans had offered the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences to arrange another yearlong mission experiment. "Meanwhile, Roscosmos is not very interested in halting the ISS works right now: the federal space program of 2006-2015 allots 186.6 billion rubles for the station. If we stop building new modules of the station, considerable funds will be written off and some enterprises will have to start massive dismissals," he added."
- Russia Shuts Off RD-180 & GPS Stations; Cancels ISS post-2020, earlier post
- Who Is Actually In Charge of the Space Station?, earlier post
Europe's Latest Galileo Satellites Injected Into Wrong Orbit After Launch, SpaceRef Business
"An investigation is underway after yesterday's launch by Arianespace of a Soyuz rocket which left its twin payload of Europe's fifth and six Galileo GPS satellites in a lower wrong orbit.
According to a statement released by Arianespace "complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit."
Marc's note: After congratulatory speeches it was later learned from U.S. military data that the satellites were in the wrong orbit. One of the many questions include why didn't the launch telemetry indicate the wrong orbit? The almost two hour Arianespace broadcast did not indicate anything wrong. Details courtesy Space News Paris Bureau Chief Peter B. de Selding.
Marc's update: Based on what we know now this could be a candidate mission for future on-orbit servicing.
"Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper). During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission. Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times. With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today's test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test. SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed." Categories: Commercialization
"Former NASA astronaut Steven R. Nagel, who served as a mission specialist on his first space shuttle flight, pilot on his second and commanded his final two, died Aug. 21 after a long illness. He was 67 years old. After retiring from NASA May 31, 2011, he joined the University Of Missouri College of Engineering in Columbia, Missouri. There he served as an instructor in the University's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department."
New Study: Electric Sparks May Alter Evolution of Lunar Soil, University of New Hampshire
"The study, published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, proposes that high-energy particles from uncommon, large solar storms penetrate the moon's frigid, polar regions and electrically charge the soil. The charging may create sparking, or electrostatic breakdown, and this "breakdown weathering" process has possibly changed the very nature of the moon's polar soil, suggesting that permanently shadowed regions, which hold clues to our solar system's past, may be more active than previously thought."Categories: Space & Planetary Science
"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. employees on Monday launched a putative class action suit in California court accusing it of fostering a racist working environment in which certain workers were subjected to slurs and passed over for promotions, making this the third employee suit to befall the rocket manufacturer in less than a month."
Marc's note: I reached out to SpaceX for a comment on this new lawsuit. Here's the response from John Taylor their Communications Director.
"SpaceX rejects these allegations and will vigorously defend itself in court. At SpaceX, we don't care about your gender, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, age or anything else of that nature--to succeed here, the only requirement is to work hard and produce outstanding results.
"Earlier this year SpaceX completed its annual review cycle and as a result of those reviews, approximately 4% of our workforce were let go. Given the ambitious goals of the company, the standards for work performance at SpaceX are very high. It is critical that all employees meet this standard."
"Traces of plankton and other microorganisms have been found living on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS), according to Russian space officials. They claim the plankton were not carried there at launch - but are thought to have been blown there by air currents on Earth. Incredibly, the tiny organisms were found to be able to survive in the vacuum of space despite the freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and cosmic radiation. The discovery was made during a routine spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts Olek Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov, who were launching nanosatellites into space.
They used wipes to polish the surface of windows - also known as illuminators - on the Russian segment of the ISS and later found the presence of plankton and other microorganisms using 'high-precision equipment'.
Keith's note: I'm certain that were I to ask CASIS or the ISS National Laboratory folks for a peer-reviewed publication for these results that they'd be more than happy to comply, right? And if this news story is not true, I should expect an equally swift statement to that effect, right? Astrobiologists ought to be jumping up and down about this - if it is true, that is.
"As far as we're concerned, we haven't heard any official reports from our Roscosmos (Russia's space agency) colleagues that they've found sea plankton," NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com. "What they're actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That's what they were taking samples for. I don't know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from."
Today: Robonaut Leg Installation: Commander (CDR) Swanson temporarily removed the Robonaut front and side torso panels, backpack, and kidney panel in preparation for tomorrow when he will attach the torso and mobility legs.