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Space Acquisition Needs Improvements

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Josh Hartman, a former congressional staffer and Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition official, believes "we need to change what we buy and how we buy it" to meet DOD space requirements.

Now a principal at the Center for Strategic Space Studies (CS3), Hartman made the comments in opening a meeting sponsored by CS3 and the Space Foundation on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Hartman said the goal of the meeting was to start a government-industry dialogue on how to make that happen.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton, herself a former Hill staffer, made the keynote address and said she welcomed the opportunity to engage in that dialogue. Recounting the difficult financial straits in which the government finds itself today, she made clear that the Air Force would not be exempt from the constrained budgets that lie ahead. The only question is how limited they will be and how to juggle all the competing demands within the Air Force. Space activities are up against major force modernization programs such as the F-35 and ICBMs, she pointed out.

Conaton is one of the architects of the proposed Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE) strategy to change the way DOD acquires space systems. On Thursday, she focused on the need to use block buys in order to provide stability to prime contractors, to improve systems incrementally instead of looking "for the next best thing," and to encourage and demand better prices for the taxpayers. EASE "is not the answer to everything," she said, but it can "help on the industrial and cost profile" issues.

Acquisition of space systems has a long and troubled history in both the defense and civil arenas. Programs like the SBIRS-High early warning satellites, the Advanced EHF communications satellite system, and the NPOESS environmental satellites are poster children for the need to change the way business is done. Joanne Maguire, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, offered a long list of reviews Lockheed Martin is performing in response to the "long nightmare of the past decade" and the "self-inflicted wounds" of the "faster, better, cheaper" era. Her company will "not sacrifice mission assurance for affordability," however, she said. She pointed to the need for stable requirements as a key factor in improving the situation. EASE can make a difference, she said, but only if the entire government "is in."

Jim Armor of ATK, a second tier supplier, said that EASE is "OK with us," though he noted that EASE calls for long term commitments while they are not yet well defined. Calling today's environment "crunch time for the space industrial base," he pointed to the successful launch of ORS-1 the night before, noting that there are no follow-on satellites in that series, it is one-of-a-kind. Praising the Obama National Space Policy released last year and the National Space Security Strategy issued early this year, he nonetheless asked "where's the implementation?" Jim Simpson of Boeing said that block buys of satellites save 30 percent in the commercial sector, but it has to be implemented in "production mode," after risk has been reduced in the development phase.

The House Appropriations Committee rejected EASE at its markup of the defense appropriations bill last month because it would require advance appropriations. Thus, this meeting also undoubtedly was part of an effort to better explain EASE to congressional staff.

Acquisition of launch services to put DOD and intelligence satellites in orbit was a key topic throughout the meeting and the subject of a special panel. The Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and NASA recently signed a memorandum of agreement that commits the government to buying eight Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) cores per year for the next five years - a total of 40. The United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Lockheed Martin- Boeing joint venture, builds the Delta and Atlas families of EELVs and sells services to the government. The Air Force will fund five per year and the NRO will fund three. Gil Klinger, currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Space and Intelligence Office, and a long time player in the defense and intelligence space arena, commented that EELVs are the fifth largest expense center in the Air Force budget.

Chris Andrews from ULA traced the long history of the EELV program, which has endured many ups and downs and contract restructurings over the past decade and a half. The government bought a block buy of EELVs in the late 1990s - 28 vehicles - that were to be launched by 2006, but some still have not been launched, he said.

Larry Williams of SpaceX picked up on that point in criticizing the government's decision to commit to 40 EELV cores. Why make such a commitment when "competition is just around the corner" with new entrants like SpaceX, he asked? Based on how long it is taking to launch the 28 vehicles bought years ago, he believes it will take to the end of the decade to launch these 40. Meanwhile, new entrants might be able to offer much lower costs if given the chance. He also took issue with those who claim that there is overcapacity in the launch services market today. His company is signing lots of orders, he said, and is bringing that business back to the United States.

The government speakers made it clear, however, they were not willing to risk mission success on unproven launch capabilities like those SpaceX is offering. To the defense community, mission assurance is the key and they want launch vehicles with a proven track record. Klinger said DOD would "apply competition when and where it makes sense."

Eric Sterner Dispels Five Myths About NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Eric Sterner, a fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute, a former congressional staffer and a former NASA official, has an interesting op-ed piece in the Washington Post today dispelling "five myths" about NASA.

What Bolden Will Say Shortly

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

NASA has released a "what's next" message from NASA Administrator Bolden to NASA employees that presages what he is going to tell the National Press Club shortly.


What's Next for NASA

In just a couple of hours, I am delivering an address at the National Press Club to talk about NASA's future, and before I do so, I wanted to share with you what I'm going to be discussing. You can also watch the speech at 1:00 p.m. EDT on NASA TV or the Web, or if you are at Headquarters, in the James Webb Auditorium.

Next week, NASA will launch its final Space Shuttle mission, turning the page on a remarkable period in America's history in space, while beginning the next chapter in our nation's extraordinary story of exploration. From the early exploits of Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark and Robert Peary to the breakthrough journeys of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, Americans have always been a curious people -- bold enough to imagine new worlds, ingenious enough to chart a course to them and courageous enough to go for it. And the gifts of knowledge and innovation that we have brought back from the unknown have played their part in the building of our more perfect union.

Some say that our final shuttle mission will mark the end of America's 50 years of dominance in human spaceflight. As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I want to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success -- and here at NASA failure is not an option.

President Obama has given us a Mission with a capital "M" -- to focus again on the big picture of exploration and the crucial research and development that will be required for us to move beyond low Earth orbit. He's charged us with carrying out the inspiring missions that only NASA can do, which will take us farther than we've ever been -- to orbit Mars and eventually land on it. He's asked us to start planning a mission to an asteroid, and right now our Dawn spacecraft is approaching one of the biggest in the solar system, Vesta. What it finds out could help inform such a mission.

The President is asking us to harness that American spirit of innovation, the drive to solve problems and create capabilities that is so embedded in our story and has led us to the Moon, to great observatories, and to humans living and working in space, possibly indefinitely. That American ingenuity is alive and well, and it will fire up our economy and help us create and win the future now.

So when I hear people say -- or listen to media reports -- that the final shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human spaceflight, I have to say . . . these folks must be living on another planet. We are not ending human spaceflight, we are recommitting ourselves to it and taking the necessary -- and difficult -- steps today to ensure America's pre-eminence in human spaceflight for years to come.

I spent 14 years at NASA before leaving and then returning to head the agency. Some of the people I respect most in the world are my fellow astronauts. Some of my best friends died flying on the shuttle. I'm not about to let human spaceflight go away on my watch. And I'm not going to let it flounder because we pursued a path that we couldn't sustain.

We have to get out of the business of owning and operating low Earth orbit transportation systems and hand that off to the private sector, with sufficient oversight to ensure the safety of our astronauts. American companies and their spacecraft should send our astronauts to the ISS, rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments. That is what I am committed to and that is what we are going to do.

Along with supporting the ISS and commercial crew transportation, NASA will pursue two critical building blocks for our deep space exploration future -- a deep space crew vehicle and an evolvable heavy-lift rocket. As you know, we have made a decision to base the new multi-purpose crew vehicle, or MPCV -- our deep space crew module -- on the original work we've done on the Orion capsule. We're nearing a decision on the heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, and will announce that decision soon.

Our destinations for humans beyond Earth remain ambitious. They include: the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. The debate is not if we will explore, but how we'll do it. The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight for the coming decade. Every research investigation and all of the systems that keep the ISS operational help us figure out how to explore farther from our planet and improve life here.

And we have a huge number of amazing science missions coming up. We'll advance aeronautics research to create a safer, more environmentally friendly and efficient air travel network.

NASA is moving forward and making change because the status quo is no longer acceptable. President Obama has outlined an urgent national need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build our competitors and create new capabilities that will take us farther into the solar system and help us learn even more about our place in it. NASA is ready for this grand challenge.

As we go into this Independence Day holiday weekend, my thoughts are on what it means to be an American and this great responsibility we have to our country. For those of us in public service, it is a commitment to serve our country. Thank you for your work and your dedication;_ we would not have this amazing, American space program if it were not for people like you. Have a wonderful and safe holiday and may God bless America!

Charlie B.

Bolden to Speak at National Press Club One Hour From Now

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Admininistrator Charlie Bolden will speak at the National Press Club in about an hour.

According to the Press Club, Bolden will be joined at the head table by Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and astronaut Mark Kelly. Bolden will discuss "America's continued commitment to leadership in human spaceflight, Bolden will also speak about NASA's plans to extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit."

The event will be webcast on the Press Club's website, which currently states that the webcast will begin at 12:50 pm EDT, though elsewhere it says that Bolden's comments begin at 1:00. It also will be carried on NASA TV and C-Span.

Bolden Optimistic About Country's Future in Space; Kelly Says He Won't Run for Office

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden shared the podium with astronaut Mark Kelly at the National Press Club this afternoon. Both were upbeat about the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program and Kelly humorously refuted speculation that he might run for political office.

For space aficionados, there was nothing new in Bolden's speech. Bolden insisted that the end of the shuttle program is not the end of U.S. preeminence in human spaceflight. Reiterating themes he has used many times, he emphasized the need for new ways of doing business, especially turning crew transportation to low Earth orbit over to the commercial sector. He repeatedly praised the commercial companies.

Questions had to be submitted in advance and were asked by the moderator. One asked about the safety of the commercial crew systems and whether Bolden himself would ride on one. Bolden replied that many of his former astronaut colleagues now work for the companies building the commercial systems so he is confident about their safety. As to whether he would fly on one - "in a heartbeat," he said, adding jokingly "don't tell my wife." He also said that he would not be standing there promoting a system that he did not personally believe would be safe.

He imparted no news on the most controversial issue at NASA today - choosing the design of the new Space Launch System. -- saying only that they were "nearing a decision" and "will announce it soon." On June 16, quoted from a memo that was said to reflect decisions made by Bolden about the design, but no official announcement has been forthcoming.

Bolden also touched on NASA's other mission areas, science and aeronautics, and focused on the need to get kids interested in science and math.

It is the human spaceflight program that is on everyone's mind, however, as the final space shuttle launch draws near. Bolden vowed that "I'm not about to let human spaceflight go away on my watch" or "let it flounder" because the program is unsustainable.

Astronaut Mark Kelly also spoke briefly, admitting that he will be sad after the last shuttle flight lands. A new chapter is opening up, however, and the space program will continue to be "a great investment for the American people," he said. Thanking everyone for the "outpouring of support" for his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who is recovering from an assassination attempt in January, Kelly responded to rumors that he might be considering a run for office himself. Some of the speculation, fueled by his decision to retire from NASA, is that if Giffords is not able to run, he would take her place. Kelly joked that it must be a "slow summer" for the press to be speculating about that and he has no such plans. His wife "is the politician in the family; I'm the space guy, and I see no reason to change that."

UPDATE: ORS-1 Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: It's OFF! And I saw it! First ever launch I've seen from my own front yard (just outside Washington, DC).

UPDATE: Launch remains on track for 11:09 liftoff.

UPDATE: The current planned launch time is 11:09 pm tonight.

UPDATE: They are going to try to launch tonight at the end of the launch window, which closes at 11:28 pm.

UPDATE: They are trying again to switch to internal power as part of their troubleshooting.

UPDATE: The launch is on hold because of a problem switching internal power on and external power off for the flight termination system. The length of the hold is being determined.


The view of the ORS-1 launch should be even better since it was postponed until 10:05 pm -- about 10 minutes from now. Follow the countdown at Wallops's website and if you're on the mid-Atlantic coast, look up!

NASA IG Cautions on Commercial Crew Challenges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Just one day after NASA issued a newsletter trumpeting the success of its Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) effort, NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a cautionary report about the challenges NASA faces in the commercial crew arena.

Crediting NASA with making "sustained progress" on commercial crew over the past two years, the OIG said that the agency faces "multiple challenges and risks as it expands its Commercial Crew Transportation program." The OIG identified the following challenges and risks:

  • Modifying NASA's existing safety and human-rating requirements for commercially developed systems
  • Selecting an acquisition strategy for commercial crew transportation services
  • Establishing the appropriate insight/oversight model for commercial partner vehicle development
  • Relying on an emerging industry and uncertain market conditions to achieve cost savings, and
  • Managing the relationship among commercial partners, the FAA, and NASA

The report does not make specific recommendations to NASA for corrective actions, but advises the agency to pay attention to the challenges it highlights. According to the report, the NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems concurred and assured the OIG that no decision has yet been made on an acquisition strategy for this program.

In the newsletter released yesterday, NASA reviewed the milesones that have been met by the four companies that received CCDev2 awards -- Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX.

Second Try for Sunset Launch Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Yesterday's sunset launch of ORS-1 was scrubbed due to thunderstorms in the area. A second attempt will be made tonight between 8:28 and 11:28 pm EDT.

As noted here yesterday, the launch should be visible along the mid-Atlantic coast. A map of where the best viewing opportunities are is available on the Wallops Flight Facility website.

NASA Trumpets CCDEV-2 Progress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA issued what it describes as the first in a bimonthly series of newsletters reporting on the "return on investment" for the Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) program. NASA issued awards to several companies in two rounds of bids --- CCDev1 in 2010 and CCDev2 in 2011.

The newsletter reviews milestone achievements met by the CCDEV2 awardees: Boeing, Blue Origin, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. The program is designed to fund companies that are attempting to develop commercial crew capabilities. NASA says that all four companies have met their milestones so far.

Sunset Launch Visible Along Mid-Atlantic Coast Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Weather permitting -- and there's a really good chance it will not be -- the first Operationally Responsive Space satellite, ORS-1, will be launched at sunset today. The launch from Wallops Island, Virginia should be visible along portions of the Mid-Atlantic East Coast.

Launch of the Minotaur 1 rocket with the ORS-1 satellite is scheduled for 8:28 pm EDT. The Air Force satellite will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) at the southern portion of the DELMARVA (Delware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula. A NASA map showing areas where the launch should be visible is available on WFF's website. The website states that as of yesterday evening there was a 70 percent chance that weather will prevent the launch. Launch opportunities extend through July 10.

ORS-1 is a small reconnaissance satellite that is part of an effort to build and launch comparatively simple satellites more quickly than traditional satellites in response to urgent needs of field commanders. The goal for ORS-1 was to launch within 24 months of getting approval to build it. It fell short of that time frame. It is the first operational satellite of its type; two precursors (TacSat-2 and TacSat-3) were previously launched.

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