Commercial Space News
Services for Patti Grace Smith will be held in Washington, DC on Monday, June 13. One of the most prominent members of the space policy community, Smith died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, June 5, though only her inner circle knew that she was ill. She was 68.
Smith - or just "Patti" as most in the space community called her -- had a sterling career in space policy. Saying that she was widely admired and respected may seem trite, but truer words were never spoken.
Patti had a successful career in the communications industry before becoming head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). She held positions in the private sector (National Association of Broadcasters, Westinghouse Broadcast Corporation, and Sheridan Radio Network) and the government (Federal Communications Commission; Department of Defense; Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.)
During her years at AST (1995-2008), she was a fervent supporter of commercial space activities. Her calm, firm, articulate advocacy for commercial space and the companies that AST facilitated and regulated was legendary. She led AST as it implemented the 2004 amendments to the Commercial Space Transportation Act that guide the commercial human space flight business, granted a license for the SpaceShipOne flight that garnered the X-Prize, and made Mojave Air and Spaceport the first inland commercial spaceport.
After leaving FAA, she became a consultant to and Board member of a number of space companies and organizations. She chaired the Commercial Space Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) from 2009-2013, and President Obama appointed her to the advisory board of the National Air and Space Museum in 2012. She became vice-chair of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2014, and was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Secure World Foundation (SWF).
ASEB Director Michael Moloney said via email that "As vice chair of ASEB, Patti made countless important contributions to the role of the Board in advising our nation's government and aerospace community. We will miss her extensive expertise and her guiding words, but most of all we will miss her friendship and her welcoming spirit."
SWF Executive Director Michael Simpson emailed from an SWF-sponsored Space Security Conference in Prague that "Patti's calm insight and clear thinking opened a door to space entrepreneurship and may yet have a lasting impact on the regulatory process itself....Her loss would be so much worse had she not done so much to mentor those she has left behind." He added that participants at the conference "paused for a moment of reflection in her memory."
Jim Muncy, himself a legend in commercial space policy circles, tweeted his reaction to the news:
Patti's spirit and enthusiasm are immortalized in this YouTube video of a speech she gave in 2013 to the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.
A "home-going" service will be held on Monday at 11:00 am ET at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church, 1615 3rd St. NW, Washington, DC.
According to the New York Times, she is survived by her husband, John Clay Smith, three sons, a daughter, 12 grandchildren, and a sister.
This article was updated to add the comments by Michael Simpson.
Note: Articles about Patti's passing refer to her as serving as the first head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which is correct. Previously, regulation of commercial space transportation was part of the Secretary of Transportation's office. It was moved to the FAA in 1995. The Department of Transportation was designated as the entity to facilitate and regulate commercial space launches in a 1983 Executive Order, followed by the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.
Russian space state corporation Roscosmos formally announced today that the next crew launch to the International Space Station (ISS) is postponed until July 7. Russia's news agency TASS reported a delay last week, but then retreated, explaining that the official decision would not be made until today. Meanwhile, aboard ISS, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time this morning.
The delayed launch is of the newest version of Russia's venerable Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS. It replaces the Soyuz TMA-M series and has improved solar arrays, a new digital computer, and a new docking system, among other upgrades.
The docking system is the problem according to TASS, although Roscosmos did not specify that in its announcement today. Roscosmos said only that additional software tests are needed to improve safety.
The new schedule calls for Soyuz MS-01 with its three-person crew to launch on July 7 at 04:36 Moscow Time (July 7, 01:36 GMT; July 6, 9:36 pm Eastern Daylight Time). The three crew members are NASA's Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin. They will launch on a Soyuz-FG rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch originally was scheduled for June 24.
July 7 was originally planned for a launch of a Russian Progress cargo resupply spacecraft (Progress MS-03). That launch will now take place on July 17.
The return-to-flight launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft has been tentatively scheduled for July 6, but clearly could be impacted by these changes. Neither NASA nor JAXA had made any public announcements as of press time.
Three crew members currently aboard the ISS who are coming home -- NASA's Tim Kopra, ESA's Tim Peake and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko -- will keep their previously scheduled return date. That crew, aboard Soyuz TMA-19M, will land on June 18 at 12:12 Moscow Time (09:12 GMT; 5:12 am EDT).
While the future plans were being finalized today, another ISS crew member, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, entered the BEAM module for the first time. BEAM arrived at the ISS on the SpaceX-8 cargo resupply mission in April and was expanded to its full size on May 28. Leak checks have been underway since that time and Williams was given the go-ahead to enter BEAM this morning EDT. BEAM is a technology demonstration project and will be attached to ISS for two years while crew members occasionally enter it to install or check sensors as Williams did today.
Robert Bigelow, President of Bigelow Aerospace, hopes to convince NASA to use BEAM for conducting a few experiments, but that has not been decided. BEAM is a small test version of Bigelow's expandable habitats. He wants to attach a full-size B330 to the ISS in 2020, called XBASE, but that also is still in the discussion phase. He envisions a robust space business using his expandable modules as habitats in Earth orbit, on the Moon, and elsewhere.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 6-10, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The House and Senate return to work this week. Time is getting short. The House will meet this week and the next two weeks, then take a week off for the July 4 holiday, and meet for the first two weeks of July. Then it recesses for 7 weeks for the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions (Republican, July 18-21 in Cleveland; Democratic July 25-28 in Philadelphia) and its usual August summer break. The Senate has a similar schedule, though it is taking a shorter July 4 recess. When they return in September, they will have only three weeks to finish work on appropriations bills to keep the government open past September 30.
The Appropriations Committees in each chamber are making solid progress in reporting out the 12 regular appropriations bills, but getting them passed on the floor is a challenge. The House thought it had agreement on the Energy and Water Bill before the Memorial Day break, for example, but politics intervened and the bill was defeated. The Senate passed the Transportation-HUD bill, which funds the FAA's space office, but there is no word on when the defense bill or the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill will be taken up.
The defense authorization bill, however, is moving along. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our What's a Markup? fact sheet.) The House already passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Senate will take up its version tomorrow (Monday).
Only one space-related hearing is on tap this week, and it's not really a "space" hearing in the traditional sense. The Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on private sector weather forecasting on Wednesday. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has an intense interest in commercial weather satellite data and Sandy MacDonald from SPIRE Global is on the witness list. That is one of the companies hoping to sell GPS Radio Occultation data to NOAA. NOAA chose radio occultation data for its commercial weather data pilot program. Bridenstine inserted language in NOAA's FY2016 appropriations bill requiring NOAA to establish the pilot program and now has included similar language in the House version of the NDAA to direct DOD to set up a parallel project. His goal is to have more small weather satellites instead of a few "Battlestar Galaticas" that are vulnerable to failures and enemy attack (he supports NOAA's JPSS and GOES programs, too, but doesn't want to be totally reliant on them).
Many briefings, meetings and conferences are taking place off the Hill this week. It's difficult to choose just one or two to highlight so be sure to look through the entire list below. The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Tuesday briefing on initial results from its LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave mission should be interesting. It's taking place in Spain and will be webcast, though the time is rather early (5:30 am) on the U.S. East Coast, never mind for those of you further West.
The American Bar Association's Space Law conference all day Wednesday also looks really good, including a keynote from Bridenstine before he has to rush off to chair that hearing. The conference has five panels on the American Space Renaissance Act, legal and policy issues of "active debris removal" (e.g. who decides which space objects are "debris" or not and who has the right to move or destroy them), intentional jamming of satellite transmissions, hosted payloads, and one with the intriguing title "Who is On Your Space Vehicle?" Michael Dodge (University of North Dakota), Laura Montgomery (FAA), Margaret Roberts (NASA), and Caryn Schenewerk (SpaceX) will discuss that last topic. NASA General Counsel Samara Thomson-King is the luncheon speaker.
Those are just samples of the interesting events this week. The list below contains all the ones we know about as of Sunday morning. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, June 6
Monday-Tuesday, June 6-7
Tuesday, June 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, June 7-9
Wednesday, June 8
Wednesday, June 8 - Friday, June 17
Thursday, June 9
Friday, June 10
The Government of Luxembourg is staking 200 million Euros to kick-start the nascent space resources utilization business -- prospecting for and eventually mining and selling resources extracted from the Moon, asteroids or other solar system bodies. The country's Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister made the announcement Friday flanked by former European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and former NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider spoke at a press conference in Luxembourg to discuss the country's spaceresources.lu initiative, announced in February, and how it fits into the government's overall strategy to become "one of the top 10 space faring countries in the world." Dordain and Worden are members of the government's advisory board for the initiative.
Although the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small country with a population of just 570,000, it already has a significant presence in the space business as the corporate home of the two largest global fixed communications satellite operators, SES and Intelsat. SES established its headquarters in Luxembourg in 1985 and Bettel and Schneider referenced that event several times as Luxembourg's entry into the space business.
Just as it passed a law at that time to create the legal framework for communications satellite services, Bettel and Schneider announced that they now will press forward with a new law to govern space resource utilization. Schneider said Luxembourg wants to be the European center for asteroid mining and to be the first European country to establish its own legal framework for that purpose. When asked if the new law will only cover asteroids or will the Moon, for example, also be included, Schneider replied it is "everything in outer space."
Luxembourg has a streamlined governmental structure that should allow it to move quickly. Bettel is not only the Prime Minister, but also the Minister of Communications and Media, Minister of State, Minister for Religious Affairs, and Minister of Culture. Schneider similarly wears several hats -- Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Defence. A constitutional monarchy, it has a unicameral legislature -- the 60-member Chamber of Deputies. Bettel said he will propose the new legislation this year and expects to pass next year.
One difference between the Luxembourg law and the space resource utilization provisions of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, also called the SPACE Act) enacted in 2015, Schneider said, is that the U.S. law applies only to U.S. companies with majority U.S. capital. The Luxembourg law will be "open to all investors" located in Luxembourg, so companies seeking international capital will be able to find it there. "I don't know why the Americans limited themselves to American capital, but we will not."
The relevant portion of CSLCA (Title IV of P.L. 114-90) applies to U.S. citizens as defined in section 50902 of title 51 of the U.S. Code -- (A) a U.S. citizen, (B) an entity organized or existing under U.S. law, or (C) an entity organized or existing under the laws of a foreign country if the controlling interest is held by (A) or (B).
Two U.S. companies focused on asteroid mining, Deep Space Industries (DSi) and Planetary Resources Inc, already have or plan to establish European headquarters in Luxembourg, Schneider said. DSi and Luxembourg announced a partnership last month to build a 3U cubesat, Prospector-X, to test technologies needed for asteroid mining (propulsion, avionics and optical navigation) in low Earth orbit. Planetary Resources, which bills itself as "the asteroid mining company," but just announced plans to build an earth remote sensing satellite, is also working with Luxembourg and Schneider said a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed soon for cooperation in both space resource utilization and earth observation.
The Luxembourg government established an advisory board that includes Dordain and Worden, who joined Bettel and Schneider at Friday's press conference. Dordain said the main goal is to attract entrepreneurs and investors to Luxembourg, bringing jobs. Worden added that his experiences in Silicon Valley (close to NASA-Ames) were a foundation for his work on the advisory board and he foresees Luxembourg becoming the Silicon Valley for space resources, a sentiment Schneider echoed.
Schneider revealed that his government has provided a 200 million Euro (approximately $230 million) line of credit to get started on creating the legal framework and for investing in new ventures. The money will be used for research and development (R&D) grants and other purposes, including Luxembourg becoming a shareholder in companies like DSi or Planetary Resources. He also made clear that the 200 million Euros is just the beginning. If more is needed, "we will be able to provide that money," he promised.
Luxembourg is a member of ESA and currently co-chairs, together with Switzerland, the ESA Council of Ministers. Schneider is Luxembourg's representative in that capacity. He noted that initially Luxembourg considered working through ESA on this initiative, but determined it would be too difficult to reach agreement with all of ESA's member states in the short term. Instead, Luxembourg will go it alone for now, but he noted that other ESA members are interested and future collaboration will be discussed at December's Ministerial Meeting. He and Bettel expressed repeatedly that it takes someone to take the risk to kick-start new ideas like this and Luxembourg wants to be that one.
Russia's official TASS news agency reported today that the next launches of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) are being delayed because of problems with the docking system.
Both spacecraft have recently been upgraded to "MS" versions. The upcoming Soyuz launch is the first of the MS variant (MS-01), while the first Progress MS was launched in December 2015.
The Soyuz spacecraft has been upgraded several times since it was first launched in 1967. Soyuz MS replaces the Soyuz TMA-M series. The MS version has improved solar arrays, a new digital computer, and a new docking system.
TASS reported today that the launch of Soyuz MS-01 has been delayed from June 24 to July 7 "due to control system flaws that may disrupt the ship's docking with the ISS." July 7 was the date of the next Progress MS launch, which is now rescheduled for July 17.
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft will take three new crew members to the ISS: NASA's Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin. None of the space agencies had made any announcements as of press time. The crew just passed their final exams yesterday.
Soyuz is also the name of the rocket that launches Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. There are several versions of the rocket, including the Soyuz 2.1b, which launched a GLONASS navigation satellite on May 27. Russia indicated that there was a third stage anomaly in that launch, but the Fregat upper stage compensated for the third stage under performance and put the GLONASS satellite into the correct orbit. That problem is unrelated to the just-announced delays in the Soyuz and Progress launches, which are issues with the spacecraft, not the rocket. In any case, the Soyuz MS-01 launch will use a different version of the rocket, Soyuz FG.
Soyuz spacecraft are the only vehicles capable of taking crews to and from the ISS since the United States terminated the space shuttle program in 2011. Progress is one of four cargo vehicles used to resupply the ISS. The others are Japan's HTV and two U.S. commercial vehicles, SpaceX's Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus. HTVs, which are much larger than the others, are launched once per year. Progress, Dragon and Cygnus are launched several times a year.
Orbital ATK conducted a "hot fire" test of its re-engined Antares rocket today at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, VA. The company is preparing to return Antares to flight status after an October 2014 failure.
The version of Antares that failed in 2014 used Russian NK-33 engines, built four decades ago, refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne, and redesignated AJ26. Each Antares launch used one AJ26 engine. On October 28, 2014, the engine fired, but exploded 15 seconds later. Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne disagreed over the root cause, which was tied to foreign object debris in the engine, but Aerojet Rocketdyne ultimately paid Orbital ATK $50 million. The details of the investigation are proprietary.
Orbital ATK decided to switch to newer Russian RD-181 engines. Two of those are needed for each launch. Today's test was of an RD-181 engine pair integrated into an Antares rocket. During a hot fire test, the engines are fired as though a launch was going to take place, but the hold down clamps are not released so the rocket stays on the pad. A number of modifications were needed to Antares to accommodate the new engines, including a new thrust adapter structure, modified first stage propellant tanks and engine control avionics, and new propellant feedlines.
Antares is launched from Pad OA at MARS, which is located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA on the DELMARVA (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula. MARS is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.
Orbital ATK said in a tweet at 6:19 pm ET that the test was complete.
In a later press release, Mike Pinkston, General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program, said "early indications are that the upgraded propulsion system, core stage, and launch complex all worked together as planned." The test lasted for 30 seconds. The video is on YouTube.
Antares is used for launching Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The failed launch took place before Orbital Sciences Corporation merged with ATK and was designated Orb-3, the third operational Orbital Sciences launch to ISS. The missions now are referred to as "OA" for Orbital ATK.
The company has launched two Cygnus spacecraft to ISS using United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets in the meantime. The first, OA-4, was launched in December 2015 and the second, OA-6, in March 2016. A firm date for Antares to launch the next in the series, OA-5, has not been finalized, but is currently planned for July 6. (The numbers are out of sequence because OA-5 on Antares was supposed to launch in the spring. The fixes to Antares took longer than planned, so OA-6, on Atlas V, was moved up. The company decided to keep the mission numbers with their rockets, even though the sequence changed.)
The rocket tested today will not be used for the OA-5 mission, but for OA-7 later in the year. The OA-5 rocket is in the final stages of integration, systems testing and check-out, Pinkston said.
Orbital ATK intends to keep open the option of launching Cygnuses on Atlas V rockets in the future. It recently won a new set of cargo launches to ISS under the second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, CRS2. Orbital ATK Space Systems President Frank Culbertson said in March that the ability to launch on either rocket offers flexibility so both were offered in the contract.
Note: This story was updated with the comments from Pinkston and other information in the press release.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 30 - June 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
During the Week
Tomorrow (Monday) is Memorial Day in the United States, where we honor the men and women who have died in the service of our country. Federal offices will be closed and the House and Senate have taken the week off from legislative business to check in with their constituents back home. It is the unofficial start of summer and a lot of people are off on vacation -- but not everyone!
The Secure World Foundation (SWF) has an interesting panel discussion on Tuesday about national security space strategy that (unfortunately) is at exactly the same time as a meeting of NASA's Applied Sciences Advisory Committee (i.e. applied earth sciences). The NASA advisory committee meeting was rescheduled from April and will be held by telecon. If you're interested in both, but there's only one of you, SWF usually records its seminars and posts the audio on its website soon after the meeting. The speaker line-up is terrific: Joan Johnson-Freese from the Naval War College, Todd Harrison from CSIS, Peter Hays from GWU, John Sheldon from ThorGroup, and Brian Weeden and Victoria Samson from SWF.
Another NASA advisory committee -- the Planetary Protection Subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council -- meets in person at NASA HQ on Wednesday and Thursday. There is nothing specifically on the agenda about the new NASA-SpaceX agreement on Red Dragon, which includes NASA providing "consultation and advice" to SpaceX on planetary protection, but perhaps it will come up anyway.
The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) 2016 runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, CO, while back in Washington, the National Air and Space Museum hosts "Space Day" on Saturday with family oriented activities.
Elsewhere in the world, the fourth European Space Solutions conference on "Bringing Space to Earth" is taking place at The Hague all week, the ILA Berlin Air Show is Wednesday-Saturday, and the second Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) conference is Wednesday-Friday in Nice, France.
Those and other activities we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for new events that are added later to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, May 29 - Friday, June 24 (four weeks)
Monday-Friday, May 30-June 3
Tuesday, May 31
Wednesday-Thursday, June 1-2
Wednesday-Friday, June 1-3
Wednesday-Saturday, June 1-4
Thursday-Saturday, June 2-4
Saturday, June 4
"We are declaring manual inflation complete." Those words from CAPCOM Jessica Meir at Johnson Space Center's International Space Station (ISS) Mission Control at 4:10 pm EDT today brought to an end the lengthy process of expanding the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). Air from the ISS was allowed into BEAM by astronaut Jeff Williams aboard the ISS opening a valve for prescribed periods of time -- often only one second long.
A total of 2 minutes and 27 seconds of air was allowed in, but it took 7 hours and 6 minutes to accomplish. A total of 25 valve openings were required between 9:04 am EDT and 4:10 pm EDT. Noises like popcorn popping could be heard as rib stitches inside BEAM gave way as expected. Long periods of inactivity were the norm as NASA and Bigelow Aerospace engineers carefully monitored the pressure inside BEAM before giving Williams the go ahead to introduce more air or waited through periodic losses of Ku-band TV coverage that ground controllers needed to observe the module's expansion.
The goal was for the module to reach 68 inches in length compared to its stowed configuration. During the first try on Thursday, the module expanded only 6 inches, prompting a decision to suspend the effort while engineers reviewed the situation. They determined that the problem probably was friction between the folds of the fabric of which BEAM is comprised. BEAM remained in its compressed state for 10 months longer than planned because of a launch delay of the SpaceX CRS-8 (SpX-8) mission following the SpX-7 failure in July 2015. SpX-8 was launched in April.
The decision was made to try again today and ground controllers took it very slowly throughout the day. As Williams' "crew day" was coming to an end, ground controllers debated whether to suspend the operation again or press on. With Williams' agreement, they kept going and at 4:10 pm ET the module had reached 67 inches. Although one inch short of the goal, they decided it was close enough.
The 67 inches is in comparison to its stowed configuration, not its actual length. When fully deployed, the module is 158 inches (4.01 meters) in length and 127 inches (3.23 meters) in diameter. The expansion today also increased the diameter to the 127 inches. BEAM has a volume of 565 cubic feet (16 cubic meters).
Expansion was followed by pressurization of the module using air from eight tanks inside BEAM. That took only 10 minutes and the work was complete at 4:44 pm EDT.
A series of leak checks will now ensue and sometime in the coming week ISS crew members will enter the module for the first time. Their task is only to take measurements. BEAM is a technology demonstrator and will be attached to ISS for two years of tests. Crews will come and go, but do not plan to use it as an operational portion of the ISS.
Hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, is trying to convince NASA to allow BEAM to be used to conduct experiments for Bigelow customers. He said at an April 7 press conference that two companies and two countries have expressed interest. His longer term plan is for NASA to attach a full-size B330 module to ISS by 2020. The 330 in B330 refers to its volume of 330 cubic meters, significantly larger than BEAM. Called XBASE, it would be Bigelow's next step in a plan that foresees using such modules as habitats in low Earth orbit, on the Moon, and elsewhere in space. Bigelow is president of Budget Suites of America and envisions space tourism as a promising business.
BEAM is made of fabric (whose details are proprietary) so it can be collapsed into a small volume for launch and then expanded once on orbit. The concept builds on work NASA did in the 1990s through the TransHab program. TransHab was terminated because of budget constraints. Bigelow picked it up and launched two test modules, Genesis I and Genesis II, on Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007. BEAM is the first such module to be attached to the ISS, hence NASA's cautious approach in expanding it.
NASA will try again tomorrow (May 28) to expand the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that is attached to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA TV coverage begins at 8:45 am ET. The agency and Bigelow Aerospace believe they understand what led to the unexpected events yesterday when the procedure was first attempted. Both are very optimistic that the module will be fully deployed, if not tomorrow, then soon. It will be attached to the ISS for two years, so there is no critical deadline.
BEAM is an expandable module made from a fabric whose details are proprietary. The idea is that it can be packed into a comparatively small shape, launched, and then expanded once in space, reducing launch mass and volume requirements.
BEAM was packaged to fit into the "trunk" of SpaceX's Dragon capsule for launch to ISS last year on the SpaceX CRS-8 (SpX-8) mission, but the failure of SpX-7 in June 2015 delayed the launch of SpX-8 until April 2016. Bigelow Aerospace said in a press release today that the extended duration in a folded state could explain why it did not expand as expected yesterday: "The BEAM spacecraft has been in a packed state for a significantly longer time than expected. It has undergone a tremendous squeeze for over 15 months, which is 10 months longer than planned."
During yesterday's attempt, the module did not expand as expected so NASA terminated the effort. Overnight, however, it expanded more, one of the clues that friction between layers of the fabric were likely the root cause. NASA's Jason Crusan, Director for Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters, explained during a media teleconference this afternoon that when operations ended yesterday, the module's diameter was 96 inches and the axial distance had moved 5 inches. By this morning, those figures had grown to 111 inches and 6 inches. When fully deployed, it will be 127 inches in diameter and 73 inches longer than its packed configuration.
Lisa Kauke, Bigelow Aerospace's BEAM deputy program manager, said during the teleconference that the fabric has "memory" and it takes time for it to relax. She and Crusan explained that although there were models for how it would unfold, the space environment cannot be duplicated on Earth, especially in terms of thermal forces on the module, so were not exact.
NASA decided to depressurize the module today and repressurize it tomorrow (Saturday) with the expectation that cycling between the two procedures will loosen the folds and reduce the friction.
NASA TV will cover the pressurization activities tomorrow beginning at 8:45 am ET.
If the module had been deployed yesterday, ISS astronauts were to enter ("ingress") it for the first time on Thursday. With the delay, it is not clear exactly when that will happen. ISS mission operations integration manager Kenny Todd said at the teleconference that the timeline will have to be redrawn once the module is fully deployed and he did not expect ingress to occur on Thursday.
If something goes awry tomorrow, the timing for the next attempt at pressurization is unclear. The ISS crew is getting ready to deploy a number of cubesats using Japan's robotic arm (part of its Kibo module, from which cubesats are deployed) beginning on Monday and Todd does not want that taking place if BEAM is in a partially deployed condition.
Todd, Crusan and Kauke all pointed out that this is a technology demonstration project. Although Bigelow launched two test modules on Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007, this is the first time one is being expanded as part of the ISS. They want to take everything slowly to avoid significant loads being placed on the ISS structure, especially at interfaces between the existing modules.
All three expressed confidence that BEAM will be fully expanded, hopefully tomorrow, but if not, in the course of time. It will be attached to ISS for two years, so there is no rush. After the two years, it will be detached from ISS and burn up in the atmosphere. As Crusan explained, once expanded, there is no way to unexpand it and put it back into its stowed configuration and therefore no way to bring it back to Earth.
Note: This article was updated with the time NASA TV will begin showing the pressurization activities and to clarify that the length of 73 inches is in comparison to its packed configuration, not its total length when fully deployed.
UPDATE, MAY 27, 11:30 AM ET. Today's media telecon has been postponed by two hours, to 2:00 pm ET.
UPDATE, MAY 26, 2016, 5:45 PM ET. NASA has decided NOT to try again tomorrow (Friday) to expand BEAM. A media teleconference will be held tomorrow, May 27, at 12:00 pm ET to explain the situation. It will be broadcast on NASA's NewsAudio site.
ORIGINAL STORY, MAY 26, 2016, 10:55 AM ET. NASA halted expansion of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) this morning when it did not expand as expected. BEAM is attached to the International Space Station (ISS). Agency and Bigelow Aerospace experts are assessing the situation to determine how to proceed. A media teleconference scheduled for this morning was postponed.
BEAM was delivered to the ISS on the Space-X CRS-8 cargo mission in April and moved to a docking port on the ISS Tranquillity module. Often referred to as "inflatable" rather than "expandable," such modules are designed to be launched in collapsed form to reduce mass and volume requirements and filled with air once on orbit. BEAM is being expanded using air from inside the ISS.
Astronaut Jeff Williams followed detailed instructions from ground controllers this morning to allow air into BEAM one second or a few seconds at a time. After several tries, ground controllers determined the module had expanded only a few inches in length and diameter, less than expected. Operations were halted at that point.
In a statement on its ISS blog, NASA said it is "working closely with Bigelow Aerospace to understand why its module did not fully expand today as planned." Engineers are evaluating the situation and depending on the outcome, another attempt could be made as early as tomorrow.
BEAM is based on technology NASA developed in the 1990s under the TransHab program to build an expandable module to serve as crew quarters on the ISS. It was cancelled for budgetary reasons, but hotel magnate Robert Bigelow decided to invest his own money in developing the system with an eye to providing habitats not only in low earth orbit (LEO), but on the Moon and elsewhere beyond LEO. He launched two test modules, Genesis I and Genesis II, on Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Those tests went well, but BEAM is larger and had to be configured differently for launch in the "trunk" of SpaceX's Dragon capsule.
Assuming BEAM ultimately is expanded, it will remain attached to ISS for two years of tests, then it will be detached and burn up in the atmosphere.
BEAM is a technology demonstrator. Bigelow is trying to convince NASA to allow him to attach a full size module, B330, to ISS in 2020, which he calls XBASE. The 330 refers to its volume of 330 cubic meters.