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Jim Bridenstine Is The Next Administrator of NASA

By Keith Cowing on April 19, 2018 2:44 PM.

Keith's 19 April update: The vote tally today is 50 to 49. Jim Bridenstine is the next administrator of NASA. Vice President Pence was present in case there was a 50/50 tie. Sen. Flake waited until the last minute to vote yes and then Sen. Duckworth cast the final vote (No) for the day. Sen. McCain was not present for voting today. When/where Bridenstine will be sworn in is not known. But there is extreme interest in having Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot to hand over the Keys to NASA to Bridenstine before Lightfoot leaves NASA on Friday.

Keith's 18 April update: This afternoon Jim Bridenstine made it through cloture. It was a nail biter for a few minutes when Sen. Flake unexpectedly voted against Bridenstine only to switch his vote a few minutes later (see tweets below). For a while things were tied 49 to 49. Vice President Pence is in Florida so he would not have been able to cast a tie breaker. But that dilemma was resolved when Flake flipped his vote. Bridenstine's confirmation vote is now scheduled for Thursday at 1:45 pm EDT. There could still be some last minute drama, so stay tuned.

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Whales As A Unit Of Measure For Launch Vehicles

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 9:07 PM.

Keith's note: I guess ULA has adopted a humpback whale as a standard unit of measure with which to compare launch vehicles. In so doing Tory Bruno is now mocking - my mockery - of his original infographic with whales - except his original used trucks and tanks - and likely had its inspiration in part from Elon Musk's space Tesla. This is kind of like featuring Space Shuttle Enterprise in the opening of "Star Trek Enterprise" when in fact Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after the original USS Enterprise in a TV show. Or something like that - with time travel.

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A Closer Look at VP Pence's Space Speech

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 5:16 PM.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/pence.wordcloud.jpg

Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 34th Space Symposium Colorado Springs, CO

"You know, since day one of our administration, President Trump has been working to keep his promise to restore America's proud legacy of leadership in space, because the President knows that space exploration is essential to our national security, it's essential to our nation's prosperity. But the President and I also understand it is essential to the very character of America. The work each of you do in the skies and in space supports our armed forces, spurs scientific discovery, drives innovation, helps America's farmers feed the world, creates the jobs of the future, and fills the rising generation with wonder and pride. The companies represented here today, and the thousands of American companies that form your supply chains, employ men and women in all 50 states - men and women who helped build the most advanced rockets, spaceships, and satellites in the world."

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NASA Authorization Act of 2018 Passes House Science Committee

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 3:56 PM.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2018

"The U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), today approved the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5503) by a vote of 26-7. The bill was introduced by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chairman of the Space Subcommittee, and cosponsored by Chairman Smith along with 17 committee members.

- Authorizes $20.74 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2018, the level enacted in the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, and $21.21 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2019
- Supports President Trump's vision of American space leadership by funding Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft
- Supports NASA using American private sector innovation and investments to unlock the economic potential of outer space"

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SpaceX Is Building BFR In LA

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 12:25 PM.

SpaceX moving fast on Mars rocket development, BFR tent spied with more tooling, Teslarati

"Spotted inside the temporary structure thanks to open flaps and a human desire for a breeze amidst the warm Los Angeles springtime, the main cylindrical component is truly vast - large enough that the eye almost glazes over it at first glance. Dwarfing the humans clambering about it, very rough estimates using knowledge of the tent's reported area (20,000 square feet) and size comparisons with machinery blueprints suggest a diameter of around 8-10 meters (26-36 feet), loosely conforming to the expected 9m diameter of BFR, as of CEO Elon Musk's IAC 2017 update."

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White Paper on Cislunar Development

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 11:03 AM.

Aerospace Corporation White paper: Cislunar Development: What to Build - and Why

"The Aerospace Corporation's Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) released a new policy paper that explores future opportunities in cislunar space - essentially, the space inside the moon's orbit and the orbital area around the moon. Cislunar Development: What to Build - and Why discusses the possible applications for cislunar space - for example, outposts on the moon, extraterrestrial mining operations, interplanetary waystations - and determines the infrastructure that will be needed to realize those ambitious goals. Author Dr. James Vedda, senior policy analyst with CSPS, says that the cislunar region remains a largely underdeveloped resource, and any coherent, long-term strategy for space commerce and exploration will need to make better use of it."

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NASAWatch on CGTN Talking About TESS

By Keith Cowing on April 17, 2018 8:30 AM.

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Bridenstine Confirmation Moving Ahead (Update)

By Keith Cowing on April 16, 2018 9:45 PM.

Keith's earlier note: Sources report that the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine to be NASA Administrator is now moving forward in the Senate along with other nominees. A vote could happen soon.

Keith's update: The floor debate and vote on Bridenstine's nomination could come as early as this Thursday thus allowing Robert Lightfoot to handover the reigns of NASA to Jim Bridenstine before Lightfoot departs on Friday.

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Radical Shift in SLS Launch Plans Discussed at MSFC (Update)

By Keith Cowing on April 16, 2018 3:46 PM.

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NASA Quietly Submits ISS Transition Plan To Congress (Update)

By Keith Cowing on April 16, 2018 11:50 AM.

Keith's update: NASA quietly posted the International Space Station Transition Report pursuant to Section 303(c)(2) of the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10) a few days ago.

"This report responds to direction in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10, hereafter "the Act"), Section 303(c)(1), to submit to Congress a report evaluating the International Space Station (ISS) as a platform for research, deep space exploration, and low-Earth orbit (LEO) spaceflight in partnership with its four foreign space agency partners, and the commercial space sector (see Appendix for text of the reporting requirement, excerpted from the Act)."

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Markup NASA Authorization Act of 2018

"TUESDAY, April 17, at 10 a.m. EDT, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will meet to consider the following legislation: H.R. 5503, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2018, introduced today by Rep. Brian Babin (R- Texas). The legislation authorizes the programs of NASA for fiscal years 2018 and 2019."

Keith's 13 April note: According to this text of HR 5503 the ISS Transition Report has been submitted to Congress. So when will NASA release it to the public?

Sec. 202. ISS Transition (a) Findings

"(4) The ISS transition report, submitted pursuant to section 50111(c)(2) of title 51, United States Code, provides an explanation of NASA's plans to foster the development of private industry capabilities and private demand with a goal of ending direct NASA support for ISS operations by the end of fiscal year 2024.

(5) The plans laid out in the ISS transition report are conditionally flexible and require feedback to inform next steps. In addition, the feasibility of ending direct NASA support for ISS operations by the end of fiscal year 2024 is dependent on many factors, some of which are indeterminate until the Administration carries out the initial phases of the ISS transition plan."

- What About That Space Station Transition Plan NASA?, earlier post
- Did NASA Deliver The ISS Transition Plan To Congress Required By Law? Update: No, earlier post
- Is NASA Going To Break The Law By Not Delivering An ISS Transition Plan To Congress?, earlier post
- Senators Blast NASA and OMB Over Future Of ISS, earlier post
- Is Privatizing ISS A Smart Thing To Do?, earlier post
- White House Plan To Defund ISS By 2025 Moves Ahead, earlier post
- Reaction To Proposed OMB Space Station Funding Cuts, earlier post

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Space Threat Assessment 2018 Report from CSIS

By Keith Cowing on April 13, 2018 11:01 AM.

"The United States depends on space across the full spectrum of military operations. These space systems, both U.S. government satellites and those of commercial and international partners, are vulnerable to a wide array of threats, ranging from jamming and cyberattacks to direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. While the need to improve the resiliency of space systems to different forms of attack is often discussed publicly, the progress other nations are making in developing and deploying counterspace weapons is not. Space Threat Assessment 2018 reviews and aggregates open-source information on the counterspace capabilities and activities of other nations, focusing in particular on China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The report also assesses the space and counterspace activities of select other nations and some non-state actors. This report is not a comprehensive assessment of all known threats to U.S. space systems because many capabilities and activities are not publicly known. Instead, it provides an unclassified assessment that aggregates and highlights publicly available information and makes it accessible for policymakers and the general public." Read the full report here.

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SLS Upper Stage Changes While Software Problems Linger

By Keith Cowing on April 13, 2018 10:51 AM.

Statement by Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot - Hearing on NASA FY2019 Budget

"NASA plans to launch an initial, uncrewed deep space mission, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), in FY 2020. The mission will combine the new heavy-lift SLS with an uncrewed version of the Orion spacecraft on a mission to lunar orbit. A crewed mission, EM-2, will follow in 2023. The FY 2019 budget fully funds the Agency baseline commitment schedule for EM-2 and the Orion spacecraft and enables NASA to begin work on post EM-2 missions. Missions launched on the SLS in the 2020s will establish the capability to operate safely and productively in deep space."

FY 2019 Budget Hearing - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Video of hearing)

NASA may fly crew into deep space sooner, but there's a price, Ars Technica

"NASA will likely launch its first astronauts into deep space since the Apollo program on a less powerful version of its Space Launch System rocket than originally planned. Although it has not been officially announced, in recent weeks mission planners at the space agency have begun designing "Exploration Mission 2" to be launched on the Block 1 version of the SLS rocket, which has the capability to lift 70 tons to low Earth orbit. Acting agency administrator Robert Lightfoot confirmed during a Congressional hearing on Thursday that NASA is seriously considering launching humans to the Moon on the Block 1 SLS. "We'll change the mission profile if we fly humans and we use the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), because we can't do what we could do if we have the Exploration Upper Stage," Lightfoot said."

Keith's note: Note that there is no mention of this substantial internal activity in Lightfoot's prepared statement at the hearing. One has to assuem that they would have rather not talked about this if at all possible. In addition to all of the excellent points raised in this article there is another looming factor that will affect this decision. Readers of NASAWatch will recall that there has been a lot of chaos at NASA MSFC in the safety group that is certifying the SLS flight software. One of the things that scared this team the most was the sad state of current software and what would have to be done to human rate SLS - with the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) on EM-2. Sources report that the internal consensus was that the software would have to be started from a clean slate in order to human rate the SLS.

But, not only was NASA planning to launch humans on SLS for the first time on EM-2, they were going to launch them for the first time on a launch vehicle configuration that had never flown before (SLS + EUS i.e. Block 1B Crew). The last time NASA did this was STS-1. If this expanded use of Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) is going to become the new baseline, sources report that the task of human rating it will be simplified since they can start much earlier. And, when humans do fly on it there will be at least one full-up flight of the SLS+ICPS SLS Block 1 configuration (EM-1) under their belt.

And then, of course, there is the issue of flying probes to Europa on SLS - a task Congress has put on NASA's agenda. The whole idea behind using SLS was to get there faster. ICPS is not the solution and Falcon Heavy becomes exceptionally competitive if that option comes forward.

That said, the SLS software safety issue is still a mess - as will soon be revealed in internal and external reports on this situation.

- SLS Software Problems Continue at MSFC, earlier post
- This Is How NASA Covers Up SLS Software Safety Issues (Update), earlier post
- MSFC To Safety Contractor: Just Ignore Those SLS Software Issues, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues Continue at MSFC, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update), earlier post
- Previous SLS postings

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New Video: Snow Patrol - Life On Earth

By Keith Cowing on April 12, 2018 11:27 AM.

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We're Still Waiting For Bridenstine (Update)

By Keith Cowing on April 12, 2018 10:19 AM.

President Trump still pushing NASA pick Bridenstine despite slim path to Senate confirmation, USA Today

"The White House is standing by their NASA man. President Trump remains firmly behind his choice of Oklahoma GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine to be the next administrator of the space agency, even though he does not appear to have the votes for Senate confirmation. "Senate Democrats should stop their pointless obstruction, and confirm our eminently qualified nominee immediately," said Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement to USA TODAY. "The President looks forward to Rep. Bridenstine's swift confirmation by the Senate, and is confident he will ensure America is a leader in space exploration once again."

McConnell sends warning over nomination votes, The Hill

"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hinted Monday that he's willing to keep the Senate in town through Friday, or even into the weekend, as Republicans work to confirm a slate of President Trump's nominees. "We have a number of nominees to consider in the next several days. ... The Senate's workweek will not end until all of these amply qualified nominees are confirmed," McConnell said from the Senate floor."

Keith's note: Sources report that NASA is hopeful that NASA Administrator nominee Jim Bridenstine's nomination will be part of a batch of nominations being pushed forward through the Senate. Right now the math for Bridenstine is still precarious. Sen. Rubio is still seen as being in the "no" column and Sen. McCain is in Arizona. If the vote was taken today it would likely be 50 against, 49 for Bridenstine. Either McCain or Rubio needs to support the nomination or (unlikely at this point) a Democrat needs to break ranks and support the nomination. In case of a 50/50 spli, Vice President Pence could break the time in favor of Bridenstine. Stay tuned.

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Will Terrestrial Politics Soon Have An Offworld Impact? (Update)

By Keith Cowing on April 12, 2018 10:00 AM.

Putin Says Space Exploration With U.S. Will Go On Amid Sanctions

"Russia wants to continue international cooperation in space and won't break off programs with the U.S. in retaliation for its latest economic sanctions, President Vladimir Putin said."

Putin says Russia will not quit international space cooperation programs, TASS

""We are not going to upset anything or to quit these programs. We are determined to complete them. We have partners in the exploration of Mars and the Moon - the United States, Canada, Japan, and the European Union," Putin said during a visit to the Kosmos (Space) pavilion at the VDNKh exhibition center."

US imposes sanctions against Russian oligarchs and government officials, CNN

"The Trump administration is unleashing additional sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin along with 12 companies they own or control. The measures announced by the Treasury Department on Friday were also aimed at 17 senior Russian government officials and the state-owned Russian weapons trading company, Rosoboronexport, which has long-standing ties to Syria and its subsidiary, Russian Financial Corporation Bank."

Russia says it will respond firmly to new US sanctions, CNBC

"Moscow said on Friday it would respond firmly to new U.S. sanctions imposed against Russian businessmen, companies and government officials. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that no pressure could make Russian change its course and that the sanctions will only unite Russian society."

NASA And Boeing May Change Commercial Crew Flight Test Strategy

"The change includes the ability to extend Boeing's CFT from roughly two weeks to up to six months as well as the training and mission support for a third crew member. Cargo capabilities for the uncrewed and crewed flight tests were also identified."

Keith's 6 April note: The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Russia and Russia is threatening to respond in kind. So far the oligarchs and companies sanctioned by the U.S. have not directly affected Russia's space activities. But this cannot be expected to remain the case forever since the U.S. will be seeking new pressure points to exploit on RUssia and vice versa - and there are only so many oligarchs and large companies to sanction. As we all know the only way for Americans to reach ISS is on Russian Soyuz flights. That is an obvious choke point that Russia could exploit, should it so desire. There are other things that RUssia could do as well. There are various reasons behind NASA's interest in transforming Boeing's CFT into something more than a simple visit to the ISS. Gaining a Soyuz replacement capability sooner is one of them - even if NASA won't say so.

How long is the ISS going to be able to remain an orbital, Antarctic-like, politics-free zone? On the bright side, the longer it manages to remain apart from terrestrial turmoils, the more space exploration speaks to a loftier way to transcend such ephemeral political threats. But there has to be a breaking point sooner or later. There are contingency plans, to be certain. But given the state of flux that NASA finds itself within - without an Administrator - and in the midst of yet another space policy formulation - while the future of ISS is TBD and commercial crew services are delayed - threats to the future of the ISS could not come at a worse time.

Keith's 12 April update: And then there's this additional factor that will inevitably have an impact on US/Russia cooperation in space.

- Growing Hints That Russia Might Sanction NASA?, Earlier post
- Will U.S. Sanctions On Russia Impact ISS Operations?, Earlier post
- How Long Will ISS Remain Isolated From Terrestrial Politics?, Earlier post
- Earlier posts on Russia

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