NASA Watch

This is not a NASA Website. You might learn something. It's YOUR space agency. Get involved. Take it back. Make it work - for YOU.
nasawatch@spaceref.com | Voice +1.703.787.6567 | RSS Feed | Twitter | Advertising | Important Disclaimer

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"."

Categories: ,

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."

Categories:

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.

Categories:

Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Preview

By Keith Cowing on May 3, 2016 6:17 PM.

Keith's 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 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.

"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."

Categories:

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

Categories:

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."

Categories:

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.

Categories:

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

Categories:

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."

Categories: , ,

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

Categories: ,

SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars

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

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."

With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool

"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."

Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post

"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."

Categories: ,

Why SLS Has Always Been About Maintaining Jobs

By Keith Cowing on April 30, 2016 8:53 PM.

Why NASA Is Building An $18 Billion Rocket To Nowhere, Buzzfeed

"It is more the politics of pork than the politics of progress," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told BuzzFeed News. "There's a long-time pattern at NASA where money aimed at science and research ends up with builders and contractors instead." ... "The point is to spend money and create jobs the way the Soviet Union did on its rocket design bureaus," Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. The SLS "a rocket to nowhere," as Cowing put it fits this pattern neatly because it provides thousands of jobs in space states. No one knows where it will go. Maybe to an asteroid (the Obama administration's unloved notion), or to circle the moon, or boost astronauts on their way to Mars."

NASA, We Have A (Funding) Problem, op ed, Mary Davis (staffer in Rep. Babib's Office), Houston Chronicle

"The SLS and Orion are strategic national assets and have to be sufficiently funded to lead the race back to the Moon and to Mars. As Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, Congressman Babin is leading this fight for adequate funding of these programs. This will have a direct effect on his district in terms of lowering unemployment rates, inspiring young children, and increases economic competitiveness. It would also affect the entire nation by expanding international relations and advances national security interests."

Public Law 111-267 - NASA Authorization Act of 2010

"SEC. 304. UTILIZATION OF EXISTING WORKFORCE AND ASSETS IN DEVELOPMENT OF SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM AND MULTI- PURPOSE CREW VEHICLE. (a) IN GENERAL.In developing the Space Launch System pursuant to section 302 and the multi-purpose crew vehicle pursu- ant to section 303, the Administrator shall, to the extent practicable utilize (1) existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects, including ... (B) Space Shuttle-derived components and Ares 1 components that use existing United States propulsion systems, including liquid fuel engines, external tank or tank-related capability, and solid rocket motor engines; and (2) associated testing facilities, either in being or under construction as of the date of enactment of this Act."

Categories: ,

NASA Is Now Censoring Its Videos. So Is Boeing

By Keith Cowing on April 30, 2016 12:28 AM.

Keith's note: These are the pictures with the blurred display (lower right of astronaut) 1 and 2. Yet this NASA image is not blurred. But wait Boeing blurs part of another screen that NASA does not blur. What are they hiding - and why are some things
"blurable" by NASA and others by Boeing? Newsflash: Space.com has unblurred photos of the control panels. The Washington Post photo is not blurred. Neither is the photo in the Christian Science Monitor. Quick: throw these scoundrels in jail.

But wait: If you go to this NASA KSC Flickr image you can see it is not blurred on the simulator or the instructor's screen. There many other photos on the Flickr page that have not been blurred. So why blur it in a Youtube video, NASA/Boeing?

If there are reasons to blur something (proprietary/security) then fine. But shouldn't the things that are blurred/not blurred be handled the same way in all images not one way or another - or yet another - depending on which image you are looking at? If there is something that should not be made public then clearly not everyone is on the same page as to what it is. What is really funny is that you cannot read the words on the unblurred screens - the ones with diagrams which are much more revealing. The screen that is blurred is simply lines of text. Go figure.

(sigh) This is what the inside of the CST-100 really looks like. Not sure why NASA and Boeing are afraid to show people. Lots of blinking lights, etc.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/modcst.2.m.jpg
Categories:

NASA Hypes Its Imaginary Plan for the #JourneyToMars

By Keith Cowing on April 29, 2016 12:00 AM.

NASA's Role in International Affairs, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 26 April 2016 (Video)

"42:20: Q: When are we going to get to Mars? What is the time line?

Bolden: "2030s. As I said before the was no plan. And some people today contest our plan - but we have one. And a plan needs to at least have a definite date in which you're gonna do something. Because the President said so, for one thing."

Keith's note: OK Charlie. You have a plan to send humans to Mars? Post your plan online. Oh wait: you can't - because there is no plan.

NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth." This is just back peddling NASA PR mumbo jumbo designed to try and make it seem that Lightfoot said something other than what he actually said."

Categories:

Changing The Way We Explore Space

By Keith Cowing on April 28, 2016 10:28 PM.

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.

Continue reading: Changing The Way We Explore Space.

Categories: , ,

More stories for May.

Subscribe to NASA Watch

Loading


Monthly Archives




NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 3 May 2016

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 3 May 2016 Video in Story

Today, the crew is observing how the lack of gravity affects plants and rodents. NASA is using the observations to improve the health of astronauts in space and humans on Earth.

More updates...

Spacewire