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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."

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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.

Did NASA cut the funding for its own Mars entry research knowing that SpaceX was going to go off and do this research? I can't say. I get answers all over the spectrum when I ask around. I do know that there were a lot of people at NASA - all the way to the top - who did not like this. But others see this as a vindication of various policies that NASA has been pursuing.

This would not be the first time that two announcements about a cancellation and a new project would happen simultaneously. Recall this episode from 2015: "NASA Cancels B612 Sentinel Agreement and Then Picks JPL NEOCam": "Isn't it a litte odd that the decision to cancel the Space Act Agreement with B612 for its "Sentinel" asteroid hunting mission suddenly came to light on the eve of Discovery mission finalists being announced -- and that JPL's asteroid hunting "NEOCam" mission is among those selected for further work?. These spacecraft even look a lot alike. JPL folks clearly saw Sentinel as competition - even if it was Sentinel team that first pushed the envelope on this whole idea. JPLers were pushing Lindley Johnson and others at NASA HQ to end the Sentinel agreement." NASA HQ staff would often try to end or avoid discussions about NEO searches from its planetary science community by Saying "B612's Sentinel will do that". And then they changed their mind.

In the case of B612 there were some valid (but overblown) concerns by NASA as to whether the B612 Foundation had generated enough financial resources to do what was spelled out in their Space Act Agreement. Of course, NASA was getting the lion's share of the value from this project while B612 was going to do all of the heavy lifting. But NASA got cold feet and pulled the plug - only after B612 had shown that such a concept was credible and then surprise, surprise, NASA approved its own version of the B612 concept.

In the case of SpaceX sending a mission to Mars, well, its markedly different. 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.

A lot of the SpaceX haters (starting with Neil Tyson) whine about there being "no business case" for deep space exploration by the private sector. These people (e.g. Tyson) are usually not business people, and they are certainly not billionaires - yet they seem to be business experts. Elon Musk and SpaceX can do what they want with their own funds, yes? End of discussion. There does not really have to be a business case any more than there is for What Bill and Melinda Gates do with their billions in developing countries or Jeff Bezos does with Blue Origin. If the people who put up the money - their own money - think this is a great idea then that's the end of that.

But wait: there is a business case here. Assume it is a given that NASA's #JourneyToMars, an effort that will take 2 decades to complete at some huge but utterly unknown cost using hardware that is over-priced and behind schedule - a mission that could be (and has been) hampered by simple congressional or presidential decisions. If SpaceX pulls this first mission off, would not critics of NASA's approach - who still want to send humans to Mars - take notice and ask why it would not be more prudent to pursue other (less expensive and faster) means to get to Mars? In other words, the investment of a hundred million or so in this 2018 mission could turn into billions in possible business for SpaceX. Not an unusual investment for a large business to make especially if you have something that a certain customer might really, really want.

Just the other day Charlie Bolden was asked why NASA was developing SLS when SpaceX had a Falcon 9. Say what you will about Congress - some of its members do pay attention to things such as mounting costs and delayed schedules.

SpaceX has put a lot of their own money into things. Musk risked everything he owned - and a lot of people's jobs - more than once. Yes, NASA gave SpaceX a lot of money (as they gave to other companies) but the hardware and capabilities that resulted, at GAO's own appraisal, cost a fraction of what it would have cost NASA to produce. And now SpaceX is off doing things (landing stages and reusing them) that NASA itself is not capable of doing. SpaceX has an ever-growing backlog of launches worth a lot of future income. Real businesses take risks with their assets and their futures. If they take the right risks they get rewarded by the market. If they fail, they suffer financially or disappear. Governments do not have to worry about things like this. They risk other people's money and share little if any risk (certainly no personal risk) if things do not work out.

What you have seen this week is a paradigm shift hiding in plain sight. In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. This announcement was just the opening note. A private sector company has committed to spend its own blood and treasure on a mission to another planet. They have not asked NASA for a penny for this mission and have offered to tell NASA what they have learned - for free. Meanwhile, NASA decided to cut its own research in an area of related technology that they deemed as being crucial for their own plans to send humans to Mars. In so doing they have taken a step back from Mars while SpaceX has taken a big step forward.

NASA could have made a big stink about this and made things difficult for SpaceX. They didn't. SpaceX could have just gone off and done this without NASA. They didn't. They both made the right decision.

The rules for exploring space have just changed folks.

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ULA Struggles With Old Engines and New Business Realities

By Keith Cowing on April 28, 2016 12:02 PM.

House panel doubles authorized purchase of Russian rocket engines, The Hill

"The House Armed Services Committee voted Thursday morning to double the allowed purchase of Russian-made rocket engines from nine to 18, despite a desire to develop an American-made alternative. The committee adopted the amendment, by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), by voice vote, after vigorous debate that did not fall along party lines. The Air Force relies on United Launch Alliance -- a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture -- for its sensitive national security space launches, which uses a launch vehicle reliant on the RD-180 engines."

ULA rival SpaceX awarded its 1st Air Force satellite launch contract, Bizjournals.com

"ULA has since tried to lower its launch costs, shedding workers and re-engineering its processes to be able offer launches below $100 million. The 3,700-employee company is offering early retirement and employee buyouts this year and in 2017 in an effort to trim down to about 3,000 employees at its five locations nationwide."

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Putin Wants To Jail Spaceport Employees

By Keith Cowing on April 27, 2016 10:19 PM.

Humiliated Putin warns Russia's botched spaceport officials they will be JAILED, Daily Mail

"Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned workers at the country's botched spaceport they will be jailed after he flew thousands of miles to watch the inaugural rocket launch for it to be cancelled at the last minute."

After failed launch, Putin demands answers on billion-dollar spaceport negligence, Russia Today

"Russia's President Vladimir Putin says those responsible for crimes during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome won't escape responsibility if their guilt is proven, and will swap house arrest for prison bunks. "Six criminal cases had to be launched, in which four people were arrested. Two of them, however, are under house arrest, while the other two are in pre-trial detention," Putin is cited as saying by Interfax."

- Previous Russia news items



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SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018

By Keith Cowing on April 27, 2016 11:56 AM.

SpaceX Will Start Going to Mars in 2018

"SpaceX announced today that it is going to start sending specially modified Dragon spacecraft aka "Red Dragon" to Mars as early as 2018. The purpose of these missions is to demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016. With this announcement SpaceX has upped the ante for the human exploration of Mars by beginning technology pathfinder missions a decade or more before NASA plans to do so."

Dava Newman: Exploring Together, NASA

"When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to "accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere." This is exactly what's happening and it's one of the reasons that we're closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before."

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: Oddly, just yesterday, NASA Administrator Bolden referred to Falcon 9 as "old technology" when asked why NASA was building SLS. Well, SLS, using decades-old technology, was created to send humans on NASA's #JourneyToMars. Yet those NASA missions won't start sending hardware to Mars until the late 2020s / early 2030s. Meanwhile SpaceX, with its "old technology" will beat NASA by a decade or more when it starts landing Red Dragons on Mars.

- Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days, earlier post

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Some - But Not All - Politics Are Good For NASA

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 9:26 PM.

Transition Fever, Lori Garver, Op Ed, SpaceNews

"The bottom line is that we in the space community can't have it both ways. We can't take the public's money, but then not allow the leaders they elect to have any say about NASA's direction. While the multi-year process of getting both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to agree on NASA programs and budgets may be frustrating, that is the "price" we pay for spending public tax dollars. These inherent challenges are part of why I believe we should do everything possible to incentivize the private sector to do more. ... If we follow the path many have suggested and limit the influence of future presidents over NASA and its leadership, we are likely to see less support for the agency, not more. It would also embolden those who want less of a sustainable strategic space program in favor of parochial pet projects. NASA stands to benefit greatly from the energy of a new presidency and should be preparing to welcome the transition team with open arms and open books."

Keith's note: In this Op Ed Garver talks about her transition Team experiences in 2008 and how NASA was less than forthcoming with information about the status Constellation - specifically Ares V. I wonder what will await the next transition team when it comes time for them to hear the SLS briefing. Sticker shock? Buyer's remorse? Another large rocket termination? Yet another blue ribbon panel?

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Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 1:02 PM.

Keith's note: I am not sure what to make of this comment by Charlie Bolden. Either he is very confused or someone is giving him really stupid talking points. Let's see, where do I start: how "old" is SLS technology? The Solid Rocket Boosters SLS uses are stretched and improved versions of the same design that Space Shuttles flew beginning in 1981 - but were designed in the 1970s (source). Oh, and SLS uses re-flown Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) which were also designed in the 1970s (source). And, FWIW Bolden flew these vehicles multiple times in the 80s.

SpaceX vehicles and engines were designed in the 21st century, use advanced manufacturing technology and require an ever-shrinking number of people to launch. Instead of re-using the reusable SSMEs on SLS, NASA will throw them away whereas SpaceX can use their first stages over and over and over again - after they wash the soot off the rocket, that is.

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Vector Launch Systems Enters Microsat Launch Business

By Marc Boucher on April 26, 2016 8:52 AM.

SpaceX Founding Team Launches Vector Space Systems to Redefine Space Commerce, SpaceRef Business

"I am truly honored and thrilled to be leading a team of industry veterans on such an important and pivotal space startup. We see innovation and value creation being the strongest in the Micro Satellite sector and Vector Space Systems will create a development platform that will foster this innovation and bring the reality of space to a much larger pool of entrepreneurs who don't need to be space experts. I am likewise honored to have such an influential group of seed investors who will bring much needed Silicon Valley DNA to the space business and will deeply influence our business, sales, marketing and product development strategies," said CEO Jim Cantrell

Marc's note: Of note, Vector announced today it has received its first rounding of funding, $1M from angel investors who weren't disclosed. Competition comparisons include Rocket Labs and FireFly, though Vector says their launch vehicle is cheaper starting at $2M with their primary market being under 50kg. There's definitely a need for a dedicated microsatellite launcher. Launch sites they plan to use include Kodiak and Cape Canaveral. Yet another potential customer for KSC.

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NASA Created OpenStack, Dumped It, And Now Re-Embraces It

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 12:56 AM.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab moves to OpenStack cloud platform, Fedscoop

"The NASA lab responsible for building the Mars rovers and robotic probes to scout the solar system has begun using an open-source cloud platform to house its mission-critical data. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab has retooled its existing hardware to support a Red Hat OpenStack cloud platform that will manage new flight projects, centralize research and reduce the need to keep funding legacy systems, according to Red Hat."

Introducing OpenStack (2010), OpenStack Blog

"The good news is that OpenStack is starting with code contributions from two organizations that know how to build and run massively scalable clouds Rackspace and NASA. Rackspace has been in the cloud business for four years and now serves tens of thousands of customers on its cloud platform. Likewise, NASA began building their Nebula cloud platform two years ago to meet the needs of their scientific community."

NASA Drops OpenStack For Amazon Cloud, Information Week (2012)

"NASA's prestige and participation has been a selling point for advocates of the OpenStack open source cloud project, which NASA co-founded with San Antonio infrastructure-as-a-service provider RackSpace. Unfortunately, they'll have to get along without NASA from here on. NASA has withdrawn as an active contributor to OpenStack, saying it doesn't want to be in the business of producing cloud software anymore. Ray O'Brien, acting CIO at NASA Ames, when asked May 30 by InformationWeek about NASA's participation, used diplomatic language to say that NASA still endorsed the project, was proud of its founding role, and might be a user of OpenStack components in the future. "It is very possible that NASA could leverage OpenStack as a customer in the future," he wrote in his email response."

-NASA Praises a Spinoff That It Has Already Dumped, Earlier post
- Paypal Adopts Software That NASA Developed and Then Dumped, Earlier post
- Earlier posts

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America's Hypocritical Fear of Indian Rockets

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 12:09 AM.

Of India and ICBMs: two current concerns for American small-satellite launch, Space Review

"A primary argument of the launch companies is that lifting the ban on the PSLV will enable vehicles subsidized by foreign governments to compete against American industry. The Antrix Corporation is mainly an administrative agent of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India's national space agency. ISRO provides the technical operations supporting Antrix's commercial launches. The PSLV was developed as an ISRO program, and the profits made off commercial launch feeds back into India's space budget. This does constitute government subsidy of the Indian launch market; in contrast, the American companies developing small launch vehicles have done so largely through private investment, with NASA purchasing their services through fixed-price contracts. Of course, those issuing counter-arguments to the preservation of the ban note that the United States does not hold such bans against the use of equivalent and similarly-subsidized Russian, European, or Japanese launch vehicles, such as the Dnepr, Vega, and Epsilon. According to the FAA Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation, the Dnepr is a medium-class vehicle used for multimanifested launches of small satellites at prices of around $29 million. The Epsilon is specifically suited for small payloads at launch prices starting at $39 million. The Vega is a small-class vehicle launching at prices also of $39 million."

- Commercial Launch: All Government Subsidies Are Not Created Equal, earlier post

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The RD-180 Food Fight Just Got Crazier

By Keith Cowing on April 25, 2016 11:16 PM.

Draft House bill would scramble Air Force's rocket engine plan, SpaceNews

"The proposed restrictions essentially would forbid the Air Force from funding several recently announced co-investment deals with Orbital ATK, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance beyond this year. The Air Force doled out $317 million worth of contracts to help fund Orbital ATK's development of a new solid-fueled launcher, SpaceX's development a new upper-stage engine, and ULA's development of Vulcan, a potentially reusable successor to the RD-180 powered Atlas 5 rocket."

Why does the Air Force want to destroy the struggling U.S. space launch business?, Op Ed, Space News

"Dan Gouré is vice president of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va-based think tank that receives money from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ... Let's tally up the Air Force's recent moves. First, it insists it must depend on Russian rocket engines for at least another six years. Then it wants to take the high risk approach of launching important national security payloads aboard either the SpaceX system that has never been tried in such a mode or a new launch vehicle using a novel propulsion system. Finally, it wants to devastate what little remains of the U.S. rocket motor industrial base by selling off its stash of surplus Minuteman boosters."

- McCain Calls B.S. On USAF RD-180 Data, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

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What Will The NASA Budget Look Like? Just Follow The Money

By Keith Cowing on April 25, 2016 9:04 PM.

New NASA budget eats the seed corn of its Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"In other words, Mikulski gets a nice Earth-observing project for her backyard, wholly unrelated to human spaceflight, and agrees to whatever budget increases for SLS that the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee over space, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), wants. Shelby looks out for SLS because it is managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama."

Alabama Political Donations Go National, earlier post (2010)

"Hmmm - have a look at this map. After Maryland, ($475,650) the next largest contributor to Mikulski's campaign in 2010 (so far) is Alabama. ($78,610). This places Huntsville as the 4th ranking metropolitan area after Baltimore, Washington, and New York - and ahead of Chicago."

Keith's note: In 2014 she got $68,010 from Huntsville - again, right after Baltimore, Washington, and New York. Coincidence?

Keith's update: Internet advertising is run by algorithms that work off of consumer behavior and website content. Some of the ads you see respond to your own browsing habits and the cookies left in your browser. Others respond to words that appear on a web page. I have seen some strange things pop up over the years but the irony of this juxtaposition of a complaint about congressional favoritism and a paid political ad congratulating Sen. Shelby for not doing what he actually does every day (corporate welfare) is rather ironic. And then when I posted this screen grab (below) and went back to view NASAWatch the ad appeared yet again (second screen grab).

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/original.jpg
http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/original.jpg
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How The #JourneyToMars Becomes The #JourneyToNowhere

By Keith Cowing on April 22, 2016 2:48 PM.

New NASA budget eats the seed corn of its Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"This week, the US Senate's Appropriations subcommittee overseeing spaceflight put forward its blueprint for NASA's FY2017 budget. The top-line number looks promising at $19.306 billion - a $21 million year-over-year increase. Yet the Senate plan exposes two potentially fatal flaws with NASA's Journey to Mars. Namely, the US Congress continues to place funding for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion space capsule before all other elements of NASA's exploration program. And by raiding other areas of NASA's budget, notably Space Technology, it is hamstringing the agency's ability to carry out the journey."

Larger image

- NASA: We're on a #JourneyToMars - But Don't Ask Us How, earlier post
- NAC Doesn't Think NASA Has Tech Or Plans For #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Previous SLS postings
- Previous Exploration postings

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Sometimes NASA Goes Too Far With The Whole Green Thing

By Keith Cowing on April 22, 2016 2:10 PM.

Keith's note: Then there's this classic goofy SLS tweet from January: Useless SLS Trivia From NASA Categories:

Understanding What NASA's FY 2017 Budget Numbers Really Mean

By Keith Cowing on April 22, 2016 8:14 AM.

Senate Appropriators Approve $19.3 Billion for NASA for FY2017, SpacePolicyOnline

"NASA displays its budget request as the combination of the three -- $19.025 billion -- and breaks down the request for individual accounts like science, aeronautics, and space technology accordingly. The $100 million from the oil company tax was designated entirely for aeronautics, for example, so NASA's budget chart shows the aeronautics request as $790.4 million, a sharp increase from the $640 million appropriated for the current year. Congress summarily rejected the Administration's notion of taxing the oil companies, however, and appropriations committees have no authority over mandatory spending. From the Senate Appropriations Committee's standpoint, therefore, the request was $18.262 billion. Throughout its report, the committee compares what it approved to that figure, not to the $19.025 billion that NASA displays. It therefore is very important to exercise care when reading the committee's report because it may say that it provided more or less than "the request," but that may not be obvious looking at NASA's budget presentation."

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