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Did SpaceX Just Change The Rules?

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 10:31 PM.

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

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Official Video: SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 2:30 PM.

Elon Musk Outlines his Plan for Colonizing Mars and Why We Should Do It, SpaceRef [Includes the full presentation by Elon Musk]

"In a presentation today at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk outlined his ambitious plan to colonize Mars. His personal motivation is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. The reason is to avoid an extinct level event on Earth that would wipe out humanity.

To achieve a self-sustaining society you'll need to send 1 million people to Mars which could take 40-100 years. To get those people there Musk introduced the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System. The rocket, the largest ever built, could carry 100 plus people per flight and would need 10,000 flights to carry those million people. Musk hopes to be able to eventually carry 200 people per flight which would reduce the number of flights needed."

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DC Think Tankers Testify On That China Space Race Thing

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 2:14 PM.

Subcommittee Examines China's Space Exploration Capabilities and Achievements, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"Now, almost 50 years since that historic event, some are asking if we are again in a space race, but this time with China. Two weeks ago, China successfully placed in orbit its Tiangong-2 experimental orbiting space lab. And that accomplishment comes on the heels of China's landing a robotic rover on the Moon, with plans announced to do the same on Mars. So, should we be concerned that China is may be closing the gap in spaceflight capabilities?"

Chairman Smith Opening Statement: Are We Losing the Space Race to China?

"China continues to make progress. We cannot resign ourselves to the remembrance of past achievements. It is time for the United States to reassert its leadership. For over fifty years, the United States has been committed to the peaceful use and exploration of outer space. Our philosophical principles of freedom, the rule of law, and transparency are evident in the actions we take. The United States shares scientific data and findings, promotes international cooperation, and maintains international peace and security in outer space. The world has benefited from U.S. space leadership."

Witness Statements: Dennis Shea, Mark Stokes, Dean Cheng, James Lewis

Earlier China postings

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New Science Mission Directorate Leadership

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 1:46 PM.

Thomas Zurbuchen Named Head of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Thomas Zurbuchen as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, effective Monday, Oct. 3. Zurbuchen is a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also is the university's founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. Zurbuchen's experience includes research in solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research, space systems, and innovation and entrepreneurship."

Memo From Acting NASA Science Mission Directorate AA Geoff Yoder, NASA

"My NASA experience has been challenging, exciting, full of new discoveries, and more importantly part of a unique family. I am excited to transition into my next phase of life and plan to retire from NASA December 2016. I don't know what the future holds for me but if history is any indication, I will be blessed with meeting new challenges, opportunities, and making new friends."


Does SpaceX Have The Right Stuff For Mars? Does NASA?

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 10:23 AM.

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."

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SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update)

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 5:48 PM.

Keith's 26 September note: Shortly after this original posting on 9 September Andrew (Andy) Gamble was summoned to MSFC Center Director Todd May's office to talk about QD34 issues. During subsequent closed door meetings MSFC management decided that they did not have any software problems - when in fact they do.

A few days later Steven Pearson, Deputy Director of NASA MSFC's Safety & Mission Assurance Directorate, suddenly announced his retirement after 37.5 years at NASA. MSFC SM&A hired some outside experts in the area of software safety and V&V and asked them to determine if the MSFC QD34 contractor or NASA QD34 was right with regard to the issues under dispute. The outside experts completed their review and agreed 100% with the positions taken by the contractor.

Meanwhile, contractor employees working for QD34 who have surfaced the issues I reported earlier have suddenly found their funding yanked. Moreover, employees who are leaving or thinking of leaving as a result of raising concerns - are being specifically blackballed - by name - by MSFC management. Potential employers are being told by NASA MSFC that they risk wining new contracts - or losing existing contracts - if they hire these individuals.

According to an internal MSFC memo previously cited "Andy and George stated that Software V&V is really just a function of Software Quality Engineering. (Really, our QD34 customers seemed not to have a clue of what comprises Software V&V, or even Software Assurance or Software Quality for that matter.) False - NASA/MSFC procedural requirements, standards, guidebooks/handbooks, etc. clearly speak to the contrary. Just because Software Assurance isn't organized on SLSP (or at MSFC) with people explicitly assigned to a Software V&V group doesn't mean we don't do Software V&V tasks (separately from Software Quality tasks)."

Most troubling of all, the internal assumption at MSFC is that the first SLS flight will have a built-in risk of failure of around 8%. This risk is being "baked in" to the design of SLS in part due to decisions being made at MSFC about software and avionics - decisions that are being made so as to not surface troublesome issues that no one wants to deal with. One can imagine that safety folks at MSFC are nervous.

This is no way to build a rocket folks.

Keith's 9 September note: NASA's SLS program has been experiencing budgetary and scheduling issues for years as noted in multiple GAO and OIG reports. The program has also had problems with technical issus such as software and avionics. Multiple sources report that one of the places experiencing significant problems is QD34 at NASA MSFC - where significant SLS flight software safety issues are mounting - issues that no one else is hearing about. The Branch Chief for QD34 is Andrew Gamble. NASA MSFC management - and perhaps the NASA OIG might - want to pay that organization a visit.

Keith's 9 September update: According to an internal memo there is a "lack of understanding by QD34 of the intent of NPR 7150.2B (A or B) [NASA Software Engineering Requirements] and of CMMI [Capability Maturity Model Integration] when it comes to a higher level of process, procedure, etc. rigor expected for Class A software than for Class C" and that actions by NASA MSFC QD34 management represent "a direct attempt by our QD34 customers to intentionally minimalize the differences to avoid making matters complicated and having to make any corresponding changes for SLSP at this time."

SLS Avionics: The Brain Without a Body, NASA

"Ultimately the avionics boxes and software have to work perfectly. But how can you be sure without putting it on the world's largest rocket and seeing how it works? That's the focus of the Integrated Avionics Test Facility - or IATF - at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center."

Earlier SLS/Orion posts


What Charlie Bolden Really Said At #IAC2016

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 3:17 PM.


Water Plumes on Europa

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 2:08 PM.

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice."

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Tectonics on Mercury

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 12:12 PM.

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

"Images obtained by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps-- cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought."


NASA Headquarters Is For Sale

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:15 AM.

NASA's HQ, one of D.C.'s largest federal leases, offered for sale, Washington Business Journal

"Piedmont Office Realty Trust wants to shed one of the largest federally leased office properties in Greater Washington, NASA's Southwest Washington headquarters - another sign that investment sales activity is gaining momentum heading into the fall buying season."


SpaceX Vs #JourneyToMars - Fighting The Status Quo

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:04 AM.

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

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Raptor Roars

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 7:32 AM.


Gary Johnson's Stance on Space Exploration

By Keith Cowing on September 25, 2016 7:42 PM.

Gaffe-prone Gary Johnson says humans must inhabit other planets, NY Daily News

"Gary Johnson might want to study up about Earth before worrying about other planets. The Libertarian Party presidential nominee -- who earlier this month infamously failed to recognize the Syrian city of Aleppo during a nationally televised interview -- said Sunday that the human race will ultimately be forced to live on other planets. "I mean, the plate tectonics at one point, Africa and South America separated and I am talking now about the Earth and the fact that we have existed for billions of years and will going forward," the gaffe-prone former New Mexico governor said on ABC's "This Week." "We do have to inhabit other planets. I mean, the future of the human race ... is space exploration. So, no, we should be prudent with the environment. We care about the environment," he said."

Gary Johnson's Solution For Climate Change Involves Moving to Other Planets, Gizmodo

"Look, what it points to also is the fact that we do have to inhabit other planets," Johnson continued. "The future of the human race is space exploration."

Keith's note: I just deleted half a dozen posts by readers that have nothing to do with the topic of this post: space policy. If you people cannot stay on topic I will shut off comments on election 2016 posts again.


SpaceX Identifies Possible Cause in Pad Explosion

By Marc Boucher on September 23, 2016 2:35 PM.

SpaceX AMOS-6 Anomaly Update 23 September 2016, SpaceX

"At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

"... Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe."


Dialogue to Continue with China on Space Debris

By Marc Boucher on September 23, 2016 12:00 PM.

U.S., China will meet this year to talk space debris, SpaceNews

"In a keynote speech here Sept. 22 at the AMOS conference, Frank Rose, the assistant secretary of State for arms control, verification and compliance, said that the upcoming discussion would likely include talk of space debris.

While representatives from the U.S. and China have met previously to talk about civil uses of space, the two sides met for a separate discussion of military space topics for the first time in May. Space debris has been a divisive issue between the countries for nearly a decade."

Related: More satellite collision warnings to come with Space Fence data, SpaceNews

"A senior Pentagon official said the U.S. Air Force will need to rethink how it issues satellite collision warnings when a new space object tracking system goes online or risk overwhelming satellite operators and hardware systems with overly cautious alerts."

Marc's note: This isn't an issue that's going to go away. All nations must eventually sit down and deal with space debris. And its going to come at a cost. A safe, secure space environment is in everyone's best interest.

Next Thursday, September 29th at 2:30 pm ET, SpaceRef will broadcast live the International Astronautical Congress plenary session "Projection and Stability of the Orbital Debris Environment in the Light of Planned Mega-Constellation Deployments" which deals with space debris.

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 September 2016

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 September 2016 Video in Story

Mission managers are targeting the Oct. 9-13 timeframe for the launch of the sixth Orbital ATK resupply mission to the International Space Station. A pair of astronauts onboard the station are also training for the robotic capture of the Cygnus resupply ship from Orbital ATK when it arrives about two days after launch.

More updates...