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UPDATE: January 13, 2015: This article was updated to reflect the arrival of the service module in lunar orbit.
The service module for China's lunar sample return test mission last year now has a new mission -- returning to lunar orbit for further tests.
China launched the spacecraft -- variously referred to in the West as the CE-5 Test Flight Device, Chang'e Lunar Sample Container Test Flight, or Chang'e-5T1 -- on an eight day mission on October 23, 2014 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The main purpose was to test technologies for reentering Earth's atmosphere from lunar distance in preparation for China's planned Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission. The capsule separated from its service module and successfully landed in China on October 31 EDT (November 1 local time in China).
The service module, however, remained in space. Initially China redirected it to the L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange point. "It was the first time for a Chinese spacecraft to reach the L2 point, and the service module completed three circles around the point" according to Zhao Wenbo as quoted by China's Xinhua news service. Zhao is identified as vice director of the lunar probe and space project center of China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).
On January 5, 2015, China announced that it was on its way back to lunar orbit. It arrived there on January 11 and placed into an initial orbit 5,300 x 200 kilometers with a period of 8 hours. After two more braking maneuvers, on January 13 it reached its final 127-minute orbit at approximately 200 x 200 kilometers.
No details were provided about what experiments are being conducted by the service module, only that it is related to "more tests" for the Chang'e-5 mission.
Chang'e-1 (2007) and Chang'e-2 (2010) were lunar orbiters and Chang'e-2 was later redirected to encounter asteroid Toutatis, which it did in 2012. Chang'e-3 was a lander that delivered the Yutu rover to the lunar surface in December 2013. A mechanical fault prevented the rover from fulfilling its primary objectives, but it returned data for many months and instruments on Chang'e-3 itself reportedly are still working.
This fourth Chinese lunar mission does not carry the Chang'e-4 designation for unknown reasons. Although China has talked about Chang'e-4 in the past as a backup to Chang'e-3, it is not clear today what that mission entails or when it will be launched. This mission does not appear to have an official Chinese designation, instead simply being described in news reports as a test related to Chang'e-5. Chinese accounts focus on Chang'e-5, the lunar sample return mission that is scheduled for launch in 2017 on China's new Long March 5 rocket from the new Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island.
Chang'e is China's mythological goddess of the Moon.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today denied Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) protest of NASA's September award of two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing and SpaceX.
In a statement, GAO said it "found no undue emphasis on NASA's consideration of each offeror's proposed schedule, and likelihood to achieve crew transportation system certification not later than 2017. GAO also noted that, contrary to Sierra Nevada's assertions, the [Request for Proposals] clearly advised offerors that their proposals would be evaluated against the goal of certification by the end of 2017."
GAO confirmed that SNC alleged in its protest that NASA's evaluation of the bids was not in accordance with the criteria stated in the solicitation, elevating schedule to a higher priority, but found that not to be accurate. Nor did GAO agree with other SNC allegations that NASA "conducted an inadequate review of the realism of SpaceX's price and overall financial resources, conducted a flawed and disparate evaluation of proposals under the mission suitability evaluation factor, and improperly evaluated the relevance of offeror's past performance."
GAO's statement added that GAO takes no position on the relative merits of the CCtCAP proposals, only whether NASA's conclusions were reasonable and consistent with the approach laid out in the solicitation.
NASA and SNC both responded to the GAO ruling later in the day. NASA said simply that it is pleased it may now move forward with the commercial crew program and end its reliance on Russia for ISS crew transportation services. SNC said the GAO decision was unexpected and it is "evaluating" the decision, but will continue to develop and test Dream Chaser.
Note: This article was updated with the paragraph about NASA and SNC's responses to the decision.
The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) decision on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract awards to Boeing and SpaceX is expected tomorrow, January 5, 2015.
GAO has 100 days from the date the protest was filed to make its ruling. That time period expires tomorrow.
SNC filed the protest on September 26, 2014 noting in a press release that it was the first time the company had taken such action in its 51-year history. It said there were "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process." Among them was the fact that NASA would spend "up to $900 million more ... for a space program equivalent to what SNC proposed" even though price was the primary evaluation criteria in the CCtCAP solicitation.
Aviation Week reported in October that an internal document signed by Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, concluded that SNC's design had "the lowest level of maturity" and "more schedule uncertainty" than its competitors and "the longest schedule for completing certification." The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on December 23, 2014 that part of SNC's protest is based on those comments because schedule was not one of the main criteria in the solicitation. SNC is asserting that Gerstenmaier "overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing the scoring criteria" according to the WSJ.
The protest was filed 10 days after NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX -- $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX -- to develop commercial crew transportation systems to service the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has been supporting all three companies in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the program and was expected to be able to support only two in the CCtCAP phase.
Pursuant to regulations governing contract protests, NASA issued a stop- work order to Boeing and SpaceX once SNC filed the protest, but reversed course and lifted the stop-work order a few days later on the grounds that it was acting within its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences. SNC filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to have the stop-work order reinstated, but the court ruled in NASA's favor.
If GAO decides SNC's protest has merit, NASA may have to go through the solicitation process all over again with consequent potential delays in the availability of commercial crew systems. NASA is hoping that at least one of the systems will be available by the end of 2017, two years later than its original plan because Congress did not provide all of the requested funding for the program. Some members of Congress continue to question why, for example, NASA is funding two companies instead of one.
NASA has been dependent on Russia to take crews to and from the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011 and must continue to rely on Russia until a new U.S. system is available. By law, the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft must be designed to service the ISS as a backup in case the commercial crew program fails, but the first crewed launch of Orion is not scheduled until 2021.
Here is our list of space policy related events coming up for the first week-and-a-half of the New Year and any insight we can offer about them. The 114th Congress convenes at noon on Tuesday, January 6.
During the Weeks
The New Year gets off with a bang in 2015 with three major conferences, a SpaceX launch that could demonstrate the Falcon 9 first stage returning to land on a barge, the beginning of a new Congress, and meetings of three NASA advisory groups.
The three conferences are:
Special sessions (e.g. Town Halls, lectures, plenaries) will be held at each. The conference organizers have varying policies on webcasting, so check at the links provided to determine if these events can be viewed remotely.
SpaceX's fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-5 or SpX-5, was postponed from December 19 to January 6 because a Falcon 9 static fire test did not go as planned. Launch on January 6 is at 6:18 am EST. While SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the ISS have become somewhat routine, SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk has been using them -- with NASA's concurrence -- to test the reusability of the Falcon 9 first stage. On two missions already, the first stage has returned vertically to "land" on the ocean -- tipping over into the water, of course, at the end. On this flight, SpaceX will attempt to land it on a specially designed barge as the next step towards reusability.
Later that day, back in Washington, the 114th Congress will convene with the House and Senate both in Republican hands. Will that mean less gridlock? Post-election vibes suggest that in the Senate, at least, liberal Democrats may take pages from the playbook used by Tea Party Republicans to demonstrate that the minority party wields power, too, so there are no sure bets.
NASA's advisory bodies -- or "analysis groups" (AGs) in some cases -- also get off to a fast start. Two of the AGs are first up: the ExoPlanet Exploration Analysis Group (ExoPAG) this weekend (January 3-4) and Small Bodies Analysis Group (SBAG) on January 6-7. AGs are not officially allowed to give advice to NASA because they are not chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Only FACA-chartered bodies are supposed to give "advice," but non-FACA groups can provide input that seems a lot like advice. ExoPAG provides input to the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Astrophysics Subcommittee and SBAG provides input to NAC's Planetary Science Subcommittee. Both of those subcommittees report to NAC's Science Committee. Another NAC Science subcommittee, Heliophysics, meets on Friday, January 9.
These and other meetings scheduled for January 1-9, 2015 are listed below.
Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4
Sunday-Thursday, January 4-8
Monday-Friday, January 5-9
Monday, January 5
Tuesday, January 6
Tuesday-Wednesday, January 6-7
Thursday, January 8
Thursday-Friday, January 8-9
Friday, January 9
NOAA announced today that the launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will slip to January 29 in accordance with an Air Force decision.
DSCOVR is a NOAA-NASA-Air Force program, with the Air Force providing the launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The NOAA announcement said only that the Air Force "acting in its capacity as the launch services provider with SpaceX, and with concurrence from NOAA and NASA, has announced a delay" in the launch to no earlier than (NET) January 29, 2015. The announcement went on to say that "NOAA continues to monitor any risk to the schedule in close coordination with its partners...."
All three agencies are anxious to get DSCOVR to its destination, the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point, to provide operational space weather data. NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite currently provides data, but is well past its design lifetime.
While the announcement was silent about the reason for the delay, SpaceX's Falcon 9 cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS) was postponed from December 19 to January 6 because a static fire test did not go as planned. DSCOVR was scheduled for launch on January 23, so the slip to January 29 should provide a bit more breathing room for SpaceX.
Russia successfully conducted the first test launch of its new Angara 5 launch vehicle today (December 23, 2014), just six months after a suborbital test flight of a smaller version of the rocket, Angara 1.2.
Russian officials said at the time of the Angara 1.2 launch that the Angara 5 would liftoff in December, but there had been so many delays in the program that it seemed optimistic. Russian news reports throughout the summer and fall continued to say that it would launch around Christmastime, however, and recently named December 23 as the date.
Live coverage of the launch from Russia's Plesetsk launch site was not provided, but replays are now posted on YouTube.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the rocket as serving both economic and defense needs saying it can be used for "the system of early warning of missile attacks, reconnaissance, navigation, communication and re-transmission of signals for defense purposes." Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin praised it as tribute to the country's fortitude: "It is great joy for all of us. In this difficult time it will be our best response to sanctions and to unprecedented external financial, economic and political pressure on our country."
Angara is family of launch vehicles that can lift payloads of varying sizes to different orbits. Russian sources list different capabilities, but Russia's space agency Roscosmos today reported that the range is from 3.8 to 35 tons (presumably to low Earth orbit--LEO). The capability to geostationary orbit (GEO) is often listed as 3.4 tons.
The launch at 08:57 Moscow Time (00:57 Eastern Standard Time) today placed a 2-ton dummy satellite into GEO using a Briz-M upper stage (the payload reportedly was intended to remain attached to the upper stage all the way to GEO).
One goal of the Angara program is to replace rockets that were developed decades ago, like Proton and Soyuz, with a modern, environmentally friendly model. Angara uses kerosene and liquid oxygen. It will also be launched from Plesetsk and a new launch site still under construction in Siberia called Vostochny. That would free Russia from its dependence on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which it leases from Kazakhstan, for many types of launches.
UPDATE, December 29, 2014: NOAA announced today that the launch has been postponed to no earlier than January 29, 2015.
ORIGINAL STORY, December 18, 2014: At a press conference this morning, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA celebrated the upcoming launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). A spacecraft built in the 1990s and then put into storage for almost a decade, DSCOVR was reinvented to meet both space weather and earth science observational needs.
Originally called Triana, DSCOVR is slated for a January 23, 2015 launch on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. NOAA’s Doug Whiteley, deputy director at the Office of Systems Development at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said today that NOAA is in close contact with the Air Force and has not been told that the January 23 launch will be impacted by today’s postponement of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch to the International Space Station. Whiteley added that NOAA would be monitoring the situation and “will see how it plays out in coming weeks.”
Whiteley said DSCOVR has had “quite a journey” already. It was conceived by then-Vice President Al Gore in the mid-1990s, but was later beset by political opposition because of Gore’s involvement and sat in storage during the George W. Bush Administration. It was resurrected by the Obama Administration.
Today, DSCOVR is a tri-agency partnership among NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force (USAF). NOAA is in charge of the program and paid for refurbishing the spacecraft and its space weather instruments. The work was performed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA paid for refurbishing two earth science instruments it originally built. USAF is providing the launch service with SpaceX. NOAA will operate DSCOVR.
Whiteley said the total cost of DSCOVR from all the partners over all the years -- including storage, refurbishment, and launch – is $340 million.
After launch, DSCOVR will undergo testing during the 110 days it takes to reach its destination – the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point about one million miles from Earth. DSCOVR is the nation’s first operational space weather satellite and will continue observations currently taken by NASA’s scientific research satellite Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched in 1997. Despite “performing admirably,” as Whiteley said today, ACE is considerably past its design lifetime and officials are anxious to get DSCOVR in place to ensure continuity of observations before ACE fails. Once DSCOVR is operational, ACE will likely be relegated to a “back up status.”
NOAA officials stressed the importance of maintaining monitoring and forecasting capabilities for space weather, which Whiteley said threatens “every major infrastructure system.” Douglas Biesecker, DSCOVR program scientist at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), described the “wide-ranging impacts” of space weather to national infrastructure including aviation and the national power grid. A recent seminar by the Secure World Foundation and the American Astronautical Society spelled out why monitoring space weather is critical.
SWPC is the official source for space weather watches, warnings and alerts and provides free information services and products to over 40,000 customers. DSCOVR will allow SWPC to issue an hour’s warning before solar storms reach Earth. Data from the system, along with a new forecast model, will also allow SWPC to forecast regional geomagnetic storms for the first time.
Biesecker emphasized that space weather “happens all the time.” In fact, Biesecker talked about a small solar storm on its way to Earth today. While the power industry – a major customer of SWPC information products – will “fairly likely” need to respond to this event, the risk of impact is low. Because SWPC customers are able to receive warnings and take action to minimize disruptions, “impacts are never really felt,” said Biesecker. Without the warnings, however, users would notice as systems begin to fail.
While DSCOVR’s primary goal is its space weather mission, it also carries two earth science instruments. Originally built for the Triana mission, the instruments will take “innovative measurements from a novel perspective,” said Richard Eckman, DSCOVR program scientist at NASA. NASA scientists will combine DSCOVR measurements, including those of ozone, cloud height, and aerosol distribution, with observations from earth science satellites in low earth orbit. The hope is the combination of data will lead to improved earth science products, such as more accurate measurements of Earth’s global daytime radiation budget.
The big issue right now is when DSCOVR will launch. The Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission for NASA that was scheduled for tomorrow now will take place no earlier than January 6. Whether that means a similar slip to the DSCOVR launch date is something NOAA is watching closely. DSCOVR has an “instantaneous” launch window – whatever day and time the launch is set, it either goes or it does not, there is no “window.” If a problem develops close to launch, DSCOVR can be on the launch pad for up to three days at a time, but then would have to go through a “recycle” that could take several days.
The key is that DSCOVR is closer to launch than it has been in over a decade.
The European Space Agency (ESA) formally announced today that Prof. Dr.-Ing. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, currently the head of Germany's space agency DLR, will become the new Director General (DG) of ESA next summer, succeeding Jean-Jacques Dordain.
A civil engineer, Wörner (whose name is often transliterated into English as Woerner), has led DLR since March 2007 as Chairman of its Executive Board. Before joining DLR, he was President of the Technische Universität Darmstadt, where he previosuly was Dean of the Civil Engineering Faculty. Prior positions included work for the civil engineering consultants König and Heunisch and, while a student, two years in Japan investigating earthquake safety.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the Executive Board, DLR
Dordain will remain at the helm until June 30, 2015 and Wörner will begin his new duties as DG on July 1. The ESA DG term is four years, but Dordain was reappointed twice and has been DG since July 2003. He joined ESA in 1986 and held a number of high level positions in the agency before his appointment as DG.
ESA and Europe's space program overall have undergone profound changes during Dordain's tenure. The membership grew as countries that were previously part of the Soviet bloc joined, and the European Union (EU) took on a larger role in European space policy. The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon formally gave the EU a space policy role and it funds two of Europe's more prominent space applications programs -- the Galileo navigation satellite system and the Copernicus earth observation program (formerly GMES -- Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). ESA is deeply involved in those programs from a technical standpoint, but the EU owns them. ESA and the EU have different but overlapping memberships (18 of ESA's 20 members are in the EU -- Norway and Switzerland are not; while 10 of the EU's 28 members are not in ESA) and different rules and procedures. They work together based on a 2004 Framework Agreement.
Wörner will be taking over an agency with stable funding of about 3 billion Euros a year, but as with most space agencies, aspirations often exceed available resources and he will have his work cut out for him navigating the ESA-EU relationship and convincing member states to fund ESA's many mandatory and optional programs.
ESA is governed by a Council of Ministers which meets every two or three years to make policy and budget decisions. It just met on December 2 and approved building a new Ariane 6 family of launch vehicles instead of upgrading the existing Ariane 5 into an evolved Ariane 5 ME. Germany reportedly preferred Ariane 5ME, but acquiesced to the French position supporting Ariane 6 shortly before the meeting. In announcing that the ministers had approved Ariane 6, Dordain said the issue would be revisited at the next ministerial meeting in 2016, but the decision would allow contracts to be signed for the development phase. ESA also is trying to obtain funds from its members to support the council's 2012 agreement to support the International Space Station (ISS) through at least 2020. At the December 2 meeting, Dordain was able to announce funding commitments only through 2017. (NASA is hoping ESA and its other ISS partners (Russia, Japan and Canada) will agree to support ISS through 2024, but that topic was not on the council's agenda at this meeting.) Launch vehicles and ISS are part of ESA's optional programs where member countries can choose to participate or not and Wörner will need to continue convincing participating members that they are getting sufficient return on their investment in ISS. Germany is viewed as the strongest supporter of ISS within ESA.
Wörner is well known in Washington space policy circles not only for his effective representation of Germany's space interests, but charmingly quirky sense of humor and entertaining stories.
UPDATE, December 18, 10:25 am EST: A link to the statement NASA finally put out is added, along with information on the status of the pre-launch briefings.
SpaceX confirmed to SpacePolicyOnline this morning that its fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will be postponed from tomorrow (December 19) to no earlier than January 6, 2015.
SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said via email that the delay is due to an "abundance of caution" following a static fire test yesterday that did not achieve all of its objectives. "While the recent static fire test accomplished nearly all of our goals, the test did not run the full duration. The data suggests that we could push forward without a second attempt, but out of an abundance of caution, we are opting to execute a second static fire test prior to launch."
The next launch opportunity is not until January 6 because of the time it will take to conduct the second test, limited launch opportunities during the holiday period, and a beta angle cutout period when the Sun's angle to the ISS prevents certain on-orbit activities like berthing Dragon, he added. The beta angle cutout period is December 28-January 7.
If the launch takes place on January 6, Dragon would arrive at the ISS on January 8, after the cutout period ends. January 7 is a backup launch date.
The likelihood of a delay was first reported by Chris Bergin of NASASpaceflight.com yesterday via Twitter, but not confirmed by SpaceX (or NASA) until this morning.
SpaceX has a full launch manifest, including the January 23 launch of the NOAA-NASA-Air Force Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) on January 23. What impact the SpX-5 slip may have on other launches is unclear at the moment. NOAA will hold a media teleconference this morning at 11:00 am EST where more information about the DSCOVR launch may be made available.
NASA finally issued a statement at about 10:15 am EST confirming the postponement and clarifying that three pre-launch briefings scheduled for today will be rescheduled for January 5. If the launch takes place on January 6, the launch time is 6:18 am Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Several sources on Twitter report that Friday's scheduled launch of the fifth SpaceX operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will be delayed. The mission is designated CRS-5 or SpX-5. No official confirmation of the delay had been issued as of 11:45 pm EST today (December 17).
SpaceX, NASA and the Air Force 45th Space Wing, which controls the Cape Canaveral launch site that is part of the Eastern Test Range, have not updated information on their websites as the time this article is being published. According to those sources, the launch is still scheduled for 1:22 pm EST on December 19.
However, NASASpaceflight.com's Chris Bergin tweeted (@NASASpaceflight) early today that the static test fire of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket did not go as planned and later posted a story that the launch "likely" will slip to January. Florida Today's James Dean (@flatoday_jdean) also tweeted that "sounds like Friday is out" and "launch readiness TBC tomorrow." SpaceCoastLaunch (@SCLaunch321), whose identity is not provided on Twitter, tweeted that "range has confirmed that the CRS-5 mission has slipped to 6 JAN 2015," The "range" is personnel at the Eastern Test Range.
We will update this article as soon as official information is available from SpaceX, NASA, or the Air Force. SpaceX and NASA have not yet replied to emailed queries from SpacePolicyOnline.com.
NASA has three pre-launch press conferences scheduled for tomorrow beginning with a status report at 12:00 pm EST.
The primary purpose of this launch is to deliver cargo to the ISS, but SpaceX also plans to test landing the rocket's first stage on a barge. SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk wants to develop reusable first stages and conducted tests on two previous NASA cargo launches to determine that the first stage could be returned vertically to the ocean -- which he calls a soft water landing. Once those first stages reached the water they tipped over, of course. This will be the first attempt to land on a barge where the rocket should remain vertical.
SpaceX calls the barge an "autonomous spaceport drone ship" that is 300-by-100 feet with "wings that extend its width to 170 feet." It is targeting a landing accuracy of 10 meters (approximately 30 feet) and the rocket stage has a legspan of 70 feet. The company rates the probability of success at "50 percent at best." All of the activities associated with attempting to land the first stage takes place after the Dragon spacecraft has separated from the stage and is on its way to ISS, so should not affect mission success for NASA.
Events of Interest