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Yet Another SpaceX Booster Recovery

By Keith Cowing on May 6, 2016 1:34 AM.

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The Unexpected Reach Of NASA Programs (Update)

By Keith Cowing on May 5, 2016 6:13 PM.

Keith's note: I sent the following email request to Glenn Delgado, AA for NASA's Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP): "I found this tweet to be very interesting. Can you provide me with a list of the specific 800+ small business companies that are contributing to SLS, where they are located, and what their products/services are in relation to SLS? People often do not appreciate just how pervasive NASA programs are in terms of procurement. Moreover it is often not appreciated how deeply these programs can reach into small communities a great distance from the cities/states where space activities are usually associated."

Keith's update: No response from Glenn Delgado or NASA PAO but this tweet from @NASA_OSBP just appeared. Impressive report (download). Too bad NASA PAO hasn't issued a press release about it. Oddly the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a pro-SLS/Orion lobbying group, has made no mention at all about it.

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Continued Problems With KSC Management of Large Contracts

By Keith Cowing on May 5, 2016 1:56 PM.

NASA OIG: Audit of NASA's Engineering Services Contract at Kennedy Space Center

"The size and scope of Kennedy's Engineering Contract has made managing the Contract particularly challenging. The cost and tasks included in the baseline and task order components of the Contract are not clearly defined, managers overseeing the Contract may lack appropriate expertise, and cost allocations are not clear. In addition, several tasks Vencore is performing on a cost-reimbursable basis appear more suitable for a fixed-price arrangement. Moreover, NASA has limited its ability to evaluate Vencore's performance by including generic milestones and deliverables in some task orders, as well as employing evaluation standards that do not align with the Federal Acquisition Regulation or the Contract's award-fee plan. As a result, NASA's evaluations of Vencore's performance do not consistently support the award-fee scores assigned or the resulting payments, and we question more than $450,000 in award-fee payments NASA made to Vencore between fiscal years 2011 and 2014."

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion, earlier post

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

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NASA HQ Job Opening: SMD Associate Administrator

By Keith Cowing on May 5, 2016 11:30 AM.

Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate

"The Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate is a senior level position responsible for providing executive leadership, overall planning, direction, and effective management of NASA programs concerned with the scientific exploration of the Earth, Moon, Mars and beyond, including charting the best route of discovery and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society."

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Guy Thibodaux

By Keith Cowing on May 4, 2016 5:17 PM.

Joseph Guy Thibodaux, Jr.

"In 1964, Guy and his family moved to Houston, TX where he assumed the role of Chief of the Propulsion and Power Division at the Johnson Space Center until his retirement in 1980. Guy holds five patents on solid rockets and solid rocket manufacturing techniques."

- Joseph G. "Guy" Thibodaux Oral History Interviews, NASA JSC

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Looks Like Kepler Found Lots of New Planets (Again)

By Keith Cowing on May 4, 2016 4:51 PM.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/kepler.findings.jpg

NASA to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries During Media Teleconference

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 10 to announce the latest discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The briefing participants are: ... Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey ..."

Robo-AO Kepler Planetary Candidate Survey II: Adaptive Optics Imaging of 969 Kepler Exoplanet Candidate Host Stars

"We found 203 companions within ∼4" of 181 of the Kepler stars, of which 141 are new discoveries. We measure the nearby-star probability for this sample of Kepler planet candidate host stars to be 10.6% ± 1.1% at angular separations up to 2.5", significantly higher than the 7.4% ± 1.0% probability discovered in our initial sample of 715 stars; we find the probability increases to 17.6% ± 1.5% out to a separation of 4.0"."

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Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Preview - Update

By Keith Cowing on May 4, 2016 3:25 PM.

Keith's 4 May update: JPL has released Conceptual Studies for the Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Solicitation Number: MM-2672-911140 which says "For access to the RFP, please visit the JPL solicitation website at: https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/bizops/". When I go there and click on "Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Conceptual Study" at https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/rfp/mm-2672-911140/ that site it asks me for a username and password. When I go to "Synopsis (DOCX, 21 KB)" https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/files/mika.docx I get the same text in the RFP posting. In other words the public is not allowed to read any of this. No mention is made of ITAR, security, or other constraints placed on this information. I sent a request for access to the procurement person listed on this solicitation. Stay tuned.

Keith's second 4 May update: JPL procurement got back to me rather promptly with a form that has standard ITAR boilerplate wording that I need to fill out (but won't) that needs to be approved in order to get access to RFP materials. The reason I asked is that the publicly available URL in the solicitation sent me to a page that had links to password-protected webpage without any prior notification that the link was password protected or that it might link to ITAR-controlled information. One would think that this would be made clear on those pages so as to prevent people like me (media) from inquiring about access in the first place. Of course using the ITAR flag (or the threat thereof) for stuff that is actually ITAR sensitive allows lots of information that is not even remotely ITAR sensitive to be shielded from public view. Oh well. The charts I posted provide some basic information. NASA and JPL could provide a lot more about this mission than they are clearly inclined to do - because they don't have to. So they don't.

Keith's 3 May note: JPL held a Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Industry day on Monday. They plan to put a RFP out on Thursday. Proposals are due 3 weeks later. This presentation gives a preview of the RFP. JPL has $400,000,000 $400,000 to spend.* The decks are clearly stacked such that only large aerospace companies who have done previous business with NASA are eligible. Also, although 100% of the cost of this spacecraft is being paid with NASA (taxpayer) dollars, JPL requires that anyone who bids on NeMO are required to sign a JPL "Waiver of Rights to Inventions" form - in other words, if they so desire, Caltech/JPL gets to keep all the intellectual property emerging from this mission - IP that NASA has arguably paid for. They do this because they can. Yet another example of a lack of interest in actually being innovative at NASA.

*My error. For some strange reasons the charts I posted say $400,000.00 - NASA never uses cents after their dollar figures - so I did not notice the decimal point.

"Proposers must meet the following mandatory qualifications by time of award in order to be considered a qualified source and thereby eligible for award.
- MQ 1: Within the last 10 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft with a solar power system of at least 10KW at 1 AU.
- MQ 2: Within the last 5 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft that operated in deep space (beyond Earth orbit) or geosynchronous orbit (GEO).
- MQ 3: The proposer (both the prime contractor and its major lower-tier subcontractors for this effort) shall be a concern incorporated in the United States of America."

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Potholes Trump Space In Trump Space Policy

By Keith Cowing on May 4, 2016 12:25 AM.

Trump Praises NASA, But Dodges Funding Questions in Aerospace America Q&A, Space Policy Online

"In brief, Trump said that NASA "has been one of the most important agencies in the United States government for most of my lifetime" and he wants it to remain that way. But in response to a question about whether the United States is spending the proper amount of money on NASA, he demurred: "I am not sure that is the right question. What we spend on NASA should be appropriate for what we are asking them to do. ... Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending." He similarly deflected a question about whether sending humans to Mars should continue to be a goal. He strongly supported government-private sector partnerships in space. His answers to Aerospace America's questions align with comments he made during a campaign stop in Manchester, NH in November. There he offered what has become perhaps his most memorable remark about space exploration, that it is important, "but we have to fix our potholes."

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Driving To Mars

By Keith Cowing on May 3, 2016 10:41 PM.

Review: Passage To Mars

"Passage to Mars" is a documentary about a bunch of guys who try to drive across a large frozen stretch of the Northwest Passage. They attempt this feat as an analog for long distance traverses people will one day attempt on Mars. This film depicts important lessons that are often far more relevant for the actual human exploration of Mars than anything NASA itself is doing right now. This unprecedented adventure, planned to last a few weeks ended up becoming a three-year epic odyssey of hope, fear and survival. The goal of the expedition was to use a specially-outfitted Humvee named the "Okarian" across 2,000 miles of sea ice. Their ultimate goal: to drive to Haughton Crater on Devon Island - the location of a NASA-funded research base where scientists and engineers learn how to live on and explore Mars.

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NASA Advisory Council Chair Steve Squyres Resigns

By Keith Cowing on May 3, 2016 4:55 PM.

Keith's note: NASA Advisory Council Chair Steve Squyres has resigned his position telling people "I've simply been finding it too difficult to balance my responsibilities and meet them all well, and something had to give." NASA is currently looking for a new chair for the NAC.

Steve was unusual when it came to NAC chairs. Usually the chair is someone who is retired or semi-retired, often an engineer or a program manager who now sits on committees for a living. Well, Steve did the engineering and management stuff too but in the end he was - and always will be - a planetary astronomer and field geologist who has repeatedly gone to places on - and within - Earth that approximate what we might expect to find on other worlds. In so doing he often took considerable personal risk. Steve's exploits included arctic and antarctic expeditions and stints underwater in NEEMO where he participated in simulated asteroid exploration activities. Steve is a real explorer - not an armchair program manager who throws around jargon to sound as if they are. That expertise served well to inform his tenure as NAC chair.

While I was glad to see Steve take on the NAC task, I am happy (and somewhat relieved) that he has decided to get back to what really defines him - and where he makes a real contribution to whatever #JourneyToMars NASA ends up embarking upon.

- A Pre-Mission Conversation With NASA NEEMO Aquanaut Steve Squyres, earlier post
- A Post-Mission Conversation With NASA NEEMO Aquanaut Steve Squyres, earlier post

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More About That Space Exploration Paradigm Shift

By Keith Cowing on May 3, 2016 4:50 PM.

Reaching for the Stars by Paying for Results, Huffington post

"With all discretionary spending under pressure, a new paradigm will be required to ensure NASA's future is as bright as its heritage. Funding research at higher levels will call for development of a revenue base to augment the agency's general fund allocations. A robust space economy where private firms support government infrastructure, services and research in space via user fees can make that a reality. A revenue positive future is something that Congress and any administration should embrace."

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Somewhat Confused Defenders Of SLS (Updated)

By Keith Cowing on May 3, 2016 9:45 AM.

The Space Launch System "Jobs Program", Paul Spudis

Spudis: "In contrast to some misleading promotional slight of hand, the SLS will not "take astronauts to Mars" but it could launch ready-to-assemble pieces for a human Mars mission into space (it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars)."

Commenter: "... I'm sort of surprised to see you acting as though launching most of our propellant for a Mars mission from Earth is a good idea."

Spudis: "Where in this post have I advocated that?"

Keith's 2 May note: Let's see: Spudis writes "it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars." If it is "fully fueled" and one presumes launched from Earth on SLS rockets, then he just said that the propellant for the mission to Mars comes from Earth, right? FWIW I attempted to post this comment but Dr. Spudis declined to allow it to be posted. This is sort of silly given that the first paragraph of Spudis' article centers around a linked posting on NASA Watch and an article on Buzzfeed that quotes me. C'mon Paul.

Keith's 3 May update: well now my comment has been un-deleted and approved (Spudis says they were never deleted so I will defer to his explanation). Spudis tersely points to another response where he says that he really meant refueling from lunar ice. Not a bad idea - but that is not what he originally said - or even implied.

This article has lots of classic SLS defenses and attacks. Spudis derides Falcon Heavy saying that he's never seen a Falcon Heavy and "but as no Falcon Heavy has yet to fly, we have no idea of what its cost would be." Well, SpaceX has been posting prices for Falcon Heavy for some time. They revised their prices just the other day. As for having never flown - correct but wait: the Falcon 9, three of which will comprise a Falcon Heavy, have flown multiple times. Yet Paul hugs his SLS even more tightly even though there is no SLS vehicle lying around - anywhere in a hangar.

Moreover, unlike the Falcon Heavy (which uses identical Falcon 9s) SLS has never flown as "SLS". Right now the SLS is a bunch of parts that have never been assembled as a single vehicle. The SRBs to be used by SLS are designed Shuttle design but have never flown. SLS uses old Shuttle engines that have never been flown in a SLS configuration. And the SSMEs and SRBs are attached to a new core structure that has never flown.

Falcon 9 has been flying for years. SLS will not fly for another 2-3 years and then will have another 3-4 year gap before it flies again. Yet Spudis et al think that SLS, which will fly twice in the next 6-8 years, will somehow be less risky to use than the Falcon 9/Heavy which will have had dozens and dozens of flights in the same period of time at a collective cost that will still be dwarfed by what SLS costs to build and operate - for 2 flights.

Like I said, SLS supporters are somewhat confused.

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New JPL Center Director Announced

By Keith Cowing on May 2, 2016 5:01 PM.

Michael Watkins Named Next JPL Director

"Michael M. Watkins, the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Space Research at The University of Texas at Austin, has been appointed director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president at Caltech, the Institute announced today. Watkins will formally assume his position on July 1, 2016. He succeeds Charles Elachi, who will retire as of June 30, 2016, and move to the Caltech faculty."

NASA Welcomes New Director for its Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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White House Response to Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

By Keith Cowing on May 2, 2016 9:21 AM.

Letter from OSTP Director Holdren to Rep. Thune and Rep. Smith Re: U.S Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, OSTP (PDF)

"The economic vitality of the American space industry is best served with a clear and predictable oversight process that ensures access to space and imposes minimal burdens on the industry. The Administration supports a narrowly tailored authorization process for newly contemplated commercial space activities, with only such conditions as are necessary for compliance with the United States' international obligations, foreign policy and national security interests, and protection of United States Government uses of outer space. Through months of consultations among Federal departments and agencies and with the commercial space industry, this Office developed a legislative proposal for a "Mission Authorization" framework, which is appended to this report."

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The Real Cost of a Red Dragon Mission to Mars

By Keith Cowing on May 1, 2016 8:34 PM.

Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.

My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.

As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 4 May 2016

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 4 May 2016 Video in Story

The astronauts onboard the International Space Station are researching how microgravity affects fluid shifts in a crew member's body. Ground controllers are also guiding Canada's robotic arm into position before next week's grapple and release of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

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