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GAO Denies Blue Origin and Dynetics Protests Over NASA HLS Award

By Keith Cowing on July 30, 2021 12:59 PM.

GAO Statement on Blue Origin-Dynetics Decision - Protests Denied

"On Friday, July 30, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, of South Kent, Washington, and Dynetics, Inc.-A Leidos Company, of Huntsville, Alabama. The protesters challenged their non-selection for awards and the award of optional contract line item numbers to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, under Option A to Appendix H of Broad Agency Announcement (the announcement) No. NNH19ZCQ001K. Broad Agency Announcements typically provide for the acquisition of basic and applied research for new and creative research or development solutions to scientific and engineering problems. The rules for these procurements are not the same as those for standard competitive federal procurements, as agencies generally enjoy broader discretion in selecting the proposals most suitable to meeting their research and development needs when utilizing broad agency announcement procedures. The announcement was issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for a demonstration mission for a human landing system for lunar exploration."

In denying the protests, GAO first concluded that NASA did not violate procurement law or regulation when it decided to make only one award. NASA's announcement provided that the number of awards the agency would make was subject to the amount of funding available for the program. In addition, the announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all. In reaching its award decision, NASA concluded that it only had sufficient funding for one contract award. GAO further concluded there was no requirement for NASA to engage in discussions, amend, or cancel the announcement as a result of the amount of funding available for the program. As a result, GAO denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.

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Nauka Was An Accident Waiting To Happen And NASA Knew

By Keith Cowing on July 30, 2021 10:37 AM.

Keith's note: I am waiting to see if NASA or Roscosmos ever explain how much fuel is still in the lines of MLM/Nauka/FGB-2 - when they purge it given that the firings were unscheduled, the prop system had to be inhibited, and the fuel tanks are supposedly empty. Based on internal memos we've read (and I cannot post), NASA personnel in Houston and Moscow were worried about Nauka and its propulsion system - before docking even happened. Plus NASA does not have the complete insight into Nauka prop system that they'd like to have and must rely on Russians.

Two of the three levels of redundancy in the Nauka prop system were lost before docking. The friendly banter between NASA and Roscosmos about Nauka issues was not as collegial and transparent as Kathy Lueders et al described it as being yesterday. Just sayin'.

Oh yes - notice that the usually reliable NASA ISS on-orbit status reports have not been updated for a week. What's up with that? Stay tuned.

- Nauka Fired Its Thrusters For No Reason - OFT-2 Delayed, earlier post

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COVID-19 Government Employee Vaccination Mandate

By Keith Cowing on July 29, 2021 6:29 PM.

President Biden to Announce New Actions to Get More Americans Vaccinated and Slow the Spread of the Delta Variant, White House

"Today, the President will announce that to help protect workers and their communities, every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel."

Beyer Applauds Vaccination Mandate For Federal Workforce

"U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents the largest number of federal employees of any member of the U.S. House of Representatives, today hailed the Biden-Harris Administration's announcement of a new requirement a requirement that all federal employees and contractors receive COVID-19 vaccinations or be tested regularly."

Biden plans to require federal workers to be vaccinated or undergo repeated tests, Washington Post

"We fully endorse a vaccine mandate," said Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents some 25,000 federal workers at agencies such as NASA and the Defense Department. "We're in the middle of a pandemic, over 600,000 people are dead, and we don't want any more of our members dying."

- NASA Coronavirus Response Information
- Earlier posts

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Nauka Fired Its Thrusters For No Reason - OFT-2 Delayed

By Keith Cowing on July 29, 2021 5:23 PM.

NASA Invites Media to International Space Station Update

Audio of the teleconference will stream live online at: http://www.nasa.gov/live ... To participate in the teleconference, media must contact Kathryn Hambleton at kathryn.hambleton@nasa.gov by 4 p.m. today for dial-in information.

Keith's update: NSAA PAO mailed this media advisory at 4:09 pm EDT - 9 minutes after the deadline expired for media to participate. So much for enabling media access.

Keith's update: NASA and Boeing have delayed Friday's launch attempt for OFT-2 Starliner due tot he Nauka situation. The new launch date is still TBD.

Keith's note: Just as the hatch to Nauka was being opened Nauka started to fire its thrusters in an uncontrolled fashion putting the ISS some 45 degrees out of its preferred orientation. Progress thrusters were activated to counteract what Nauka was doing. Then the Service Module used its thrusters to counteract what Nauka was doing. Now Russia is waiting to get another pass to communicate with Nauka to see what is going on - and why. NASA is not saying much of anything other than to say that the crew is not in danger.

Nauka has had problems from the moment it reached space. Indeed it had problems in the decades it sat on the ground and had to have one system after another rebuilt and/or redesigned. It was originally FGB-2 - one of the two FGBs that NASA paid for back in the 1990s. This module was a back-up and was only called into service when Russia decided that it could not afford a much more complex laboratory module.

Nauka was unable to use its propulsion system to do orbit burns so it had to use smaller thrusters to do that. Now that it is docked onto the ISS it is supposed to be passive. As such, the random firing of its thrusters in an uncontrolled fashion such that the space station has to fight back to counter this activity is not the sign of a healthy spacecraft. Add in the fact that there were crew inside when this happend is certainly causing some people at NASA and Roscosmos to be concerned.

You have to wonder if NASA and Boeing are at all interested in launching OFT-2 given that this uncontrollable and unexplained situation exists.

Stay tuned.

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Biden No Longer Gives All Those NASA Outs

By Keith Cowing on July 28, 2021 2:55 PM.

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Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA Headquarters

By Keith Cowing on July 28, 2021 11:50 AM.

NASA Federal Advisory Committees; Notice of Committees Re- Establishment Pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Federal Register

"The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has determined that the re-establishment of four (4) NASA Federal advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is necessary and in the public interest in connection with the performance of duties imposed upon NASA by law. This determination follows consultation with the Committee Management Secretariat, General Services Administration. These four committees were originally established on January 17, 2017. These four committees and their charters expired on June 12, 2021. Name of Federal Advisory Committees: Astrophysics Advisory Committee; Heliophysics Advisory Committee; Earth Science Advisory Committee; and Planetary Science Advisory Committee."

Keith's note: Its nice that someone at NASA noticed that these 4 important FACA advisory committees expired a month and a half ago. The last time that the NASA Advisory Committee had a public meeting was 31 October - 1 November 2019 - that was one year before the 2020 election. Yes, the pandemic upset things but NASA now has a thousand webinars, telecons, etc, every single day. NASA and its external communities have the whole telework thing down - just like the rest of us.

According to the official NAC website the NAC Aeronautics, Human Exploration and Operations, Regulatory and Policy, Science, STEM Engagement, and Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committees last met in 2019 along with the NAC itself. NASA has not even bothered to put up information resulting from any of these meetings. Nor is there any indication of when there will be new meetings. But wait - on another page on the NASA Aeronautics Directorate website says that the Aeronautics Committee met on 7 July 2021. And the Science Committee met on 14-15 April 2021 according to the Federal Register, and the Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) met on 27 January 2021. And so on. No one seems to know what the NAC does and when it does it.

Oh yes: the NAC Science Committee's subcommittees have somehow managed to continue to meet on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, NASA seems to have been so uninterested in the whole policy advisory thing that they forgot that the charters for these four active NAC science committees expired 6 weeks ago. If committees just evaporate and the NAC people cannot grasp which committee and subcommittees are or are not meeting, what else has slipped through the cracks?

The Office of Science at Technology Policy is still getting up to speed with regard to space policy. After a brief flurry of arm waving several months ago about who should be the executive secretary of the National Space Council, no one has heard a peep out of the Vice President's office as to what is going on with that advisory committee or with its associated Users Advisory Committee. As such, NASA is simply making up policy based on what they derive from the White House without all of the ususal advisory apparatus in place that usually helps guide these things. Meanwhile, major budget issues confront the agency. Its large flagship project the Artemis Program with its giant rocket that is a decade late and many billions of over budget and the only solution seems to be a care package from TBD Infrastructure legislation. And then there is the while Human Landing System mess. NASA is at a crossroads in many ways. You'd think that there'd be a little more attention given to getting some external advice and reality checks.

The whole NAC thing is run by the Advisory Committee Management Division of the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR). The OIIR is not known for being up to date on things. As I noted a month ago NASA's International and Interagency Relations Team Doesn't Bother To Update. They have no link to the Artemis Accords (which that office negotiated several years ago) and *all* of the policy links they have listed go to broken links that evaporated when the Trump Administration left office. I pointed all of this out a month ago. But NASA OIIR Associate Administrator Karen Feldstein and her team seem to be sleepwalking through the whole idea of telling stakeholders and taxpayers what they are doing or, in this case, what they are not doing.

- No One Really Knows/Cares What The NASA Advisory Council Does, earlier post

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A Blue Origin Amazon Prime Special On Human Landing Systems

By Keith Cowing on July 26, 2021 11:19 AM.

Letter From Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos To NASA Administrator Bill Nelson: Human Landing System

"In April (prior to your confirmation as NASA administrator), only one HLS bidder, SpaceX, was offered the opportunity to revise their price and funding profile, leading to their selection. Blue Origin was not offered the same opportunity. That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity. But it is not too late to remedy. We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path. Our Appendix H HLS contract is still open and can be amended.

With that in mind and on behalf of the National Team, we formally offer the following for your consideration:

• Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2B to get the program back on track right now. This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up.

• Blue Origin will, at its own cost, contribute the development and launch of a pathfinder mission to low-Earth orbit of the lunar descent element to further retire development and schedule risks. This pathfinder mission is offered in addition to the baseline plan of performing a precursor uncrewed landing mission prior to risking any astronauts to the Moon. This contribution to the program is above and beyond the over $1B of corporate contribution cited in our Option A proposal that funds items such as our privately developed BE-7 lunar lander engine and indefinite storage of liquid hydrogen in space. All of these contributions are in addition to the $2B waiver of payments referenced above.

• Finally, Blue Origin will accept a firm, fixed-priced contract for this work, cover any system development cost overruns, and shield NASA from partner cost escalation concerns."

Keith's note: You have to wonder who advises Jeff Bezos on his outreach, PR, and overall tone setting. More than half of the stories that have circulated (or continue to circulate) about his flight last week are not positive. Indeed some are overtly negative. So, instead of sending a private letter to Bill Nelson to make this offer, he releases this thing with the clear intent of trying to use public pressure and money (as an afterthought) to Big Foot the matter and reverse the HLS decision. Bad press about space billionaires having their way in space now mixes with space billionaires trying to change NASA decisions that they do not like. No one benefits from this.

GAO is not deterred by external pressure and they will make their decision known - possibly as early as next week. Nelson is going to have a hard time arguing with the GAO's protest ruling if they side with NASA's earlier decision - especially since the basic factor that guided the sole source decision i.e. not enough money for more than one contractor - is still in force. NASA decided to make one HLS award since they could not make a decision to spend money that they simply do not have. NASA still has no idea where they are going to get all the money to keep the program of record on track for a 2024 lunar landing - or any other landing.

Members of Congress from the affected states will pressure NASA to consider this offer. Bill Nelson did not really hide his displeasure at the down select to one vendor so he may not put up much of a fight. The GAO analysis was made without this offer from Blue Origin. Blue Origin only focuses on their side of the equation and does not take into account the things NASA will have to do to adopt their proposal. And if they accept Blue Origin's proposal then why shouldn't they just give Dynetics a second shot or, for that matter SpaceX and the other bidders and just re-do the whole procurement. Heck, Elon could throw a billion Bitcoin in ;-) If this after-the-fact proposal is now considered, then the net result will certainly be yet another delay in the process of developing a Human Landing System for Artemis. It also sends a message to big aerospace that you can reverse NASA decisions - if you offer enough money.

Besides, SpaceX may well decide to just go to the Moon anyway on their own dime.

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SLS Just Lost One Of Its Big Selling Points

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2021 1:18 PM.

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for the Europa Clipper Mission

"NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for Earth's first mission to conduct detailed investigations of Jupiter's moon Europa. The Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million."

Keith's note: The White House estimated that the cost of a SLS launch for Europa Clipper was in the range of $2 billion. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy choice saves virtually all of that - even though it was still in an imaginary outyear budget. Meanwhile, the whole SLS promotional rationale i.e. that it can do everything everywhere bigger and faster - and that space/planetary science folks should love it as a result - is falling apart with this announcement. And oh yes: Psyche was already manifested on a Falcon Heavy so the confidence in that launch vehicle - the most powerful rocket that is now flying - is simply growing. And the SpaceX Starship will soon blast the Artemis program of record paradigm apart as well. As far as the rationale for SLS being a part of a multi-decades-long program of lunar, Martian, and solar system exploration goes: Tick tock.

- Surprise: SLS Will Cost 30% More Than The Last Big Cost Increase, earlier post
- Congress Uses Legal Snark To Ask NASA About SLS And Europa, earlier post
- Babin Requests Information on Europa Clipper Mission and SLS Use, earlier post
- NASA OIG Follow-up to May 2019 Audit of Europa Mission: Congressional Launch Vehicle Mandate, earlier post
- Europa Clipper Mission Confirmed, earlier post
- GAO Report On NASA: Things Cost More And Take Longer, earlier post
- Moon 2024 Goal Delays SLS Availability For Europa Clipper, earlier post

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NASAWatch On BBC: Who Gets The FAA Astronaut Wings?

By Keith Cowing on July 23, 2021 8:29 PM.

FAA National Policy: FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program

"Purpose of This Order. This Order provides guidelines, eligibility, and criteria for the administration of the FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program."

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NASA Can't Figure Out How To Promote Good News About Space

By Keith Cowing on July 22, 2021 2:59 PM.

NIH Director Francis Collins and NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins to Keynote Joint Session at ISSRDC

"The 2021 International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC) will include a virtual keynote session that will feature two key science figures: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins and NASA astronaut Dr. Kate Rubins."

The Smithsonian's Dr. Ellen Stofan and NASA's Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen to Keynote Day 2 Session at ISSRDC

"Dr. Ellen Stofan, under secretary for science and research at the Smithsonian Institution, will join NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, in a keynote address during the 10th annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC), August 3-5."

Keith's note: This is a big deal: the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, is a Keynote speaker at the CASIS/ISS National Laboratory ISSRDC (10th Annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference) event next week. NASA has tried to get this level of visibility and recognition from the larger biomedical community for a very, very long time. Well done to ever pulled this off. And the AA for Science Mission Directorate is speaking too - a cross-pollinating event.

With all of these excellent guest speakers, you'd think that HEOMD AA Kathy Lueders and the HEOMD team would be wanting to tell everyone about this. Guess again. There is nothing mentioned on the NASA Space Station or Humans in Space web pages. There is no mention on the NASA Science Mission Directorate home page or the SMD NASA Biological & Physical Sciences page. Nothing is listed on the NASA TV schedule for this event. No NASA media advisories or press releases have been put out.

It is not surprising that NASA HEOMD, SMD, and PAO have dropped the ball on this. They never coordinate when it comes to events that reach cross disciplines - or centers - and they are incapable of envisioning the value of cross-pollinating, cross-disciplinary events like this since this means that people who never talk to each other need to talk to each other so as to share the news. Meanwhile NASA's ISS Program Office and ISS National Lab act as if they are separate organizations. How can NASA expect that people will see a vibrant, multi-disciplinary, cutting edge research effort in space - one that is important enough to make certain that ISS continues to operate throughout the decade - if the agency can't even get the people involved in that program to promote their own good news? Baffling.

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Has NASA Lost Its Mojo?

By Keith Cowing on July 20, 2021 10:28 PM.

Opinion: The billionaires' space efforts may seem tone-deaf, but they're important milestones, Miles O'Brien, Washington Post

"While NASA (and its Pasadena, Calif.-based Jet Propulsion Lab) are unmatched at unmanned space probes, the agency's record for manned missions has lagged, to say the least. For decades, NASA has acted like that guy bragging in a bar about winning a state championship 50 years ago. You may not love them, but the billionaires behind these private-sector efforts have both the resources and the impatience with government bureaucracy to put Americans back in space - where they belong."

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Blue Origin Flight Coverage

By Keith Cowing on July 20, 2021 10:19 PM.

Blue Origin Launches Four Commercial Astronauts To Space And Back (with video)

"Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard's first human flight today with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space."

Keith's note: FYI I will be live on BBC World News starting around 9:00 am to co-anchor live coverage of today's Blue Origin flight. I will be on BBC at noon to do a recap. I will be on Al Jazeera Arabic between 2:35-2:55 pm and then on Deutsche Welle just after 3:00 pm. and then ABC News Live at 3:15 pm. Then its a limo ride into DC and CNN's Situation Room some time between 5-7 pm, a limo ride home, DW again at 7:00 pm, CGTN (US) just after 8:00 pm, CTV at 8:30 pm, and then CGTN (Beijing) at 10:00 pm. Then I crash.

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NASAWatch on CTV: Blue Origin

By Keith Cowing on July 20, 2021 9:04 PM.

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NASAWatch on CGTN: Blue Origin

By Keith Cowing on July 20, 2021 9:01 PM.

9:00 pm CGTN America

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NASAWatch on Deutsche Welle: Blue Origin

By Keith Cowing on July 20, 2021 7:17 PM.

7:00 PM EDT

3:00 PM EDT

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NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for 30 July, 2021

NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for 30 July, 2021 Video in Story

NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station.

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