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NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) is seeking improvements in how NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) decides on extending mission operations in its four scientific disciplines, especially planetary science.
SMD has four divisions that manage its scientific spacecraft -- astrophysics, earth science, heliophysics, and planetary science. Those spacecraft routinely operate for years after their primary missions are completed and SMD holds "Senior Reviews" every two years to assess whether extending the mission operations for each spacecraft is a worthwhile investment in terms of the scientific return.
The OIG report issued today generally praised the Senior Reviews for astrophysics, earth science, and heliophysics for including all eligible projects and providing budgetary and programmatic guidance for five years. By contrast, the OIG criticized planetary science Senior Reviews because they "unnecessarily excluded some projects," focused on a shorter time frame, and "had no documented rationale for extended mission budget guidelines." SMD's Planetary Science Division (PSD) just completed its 2014 Senior Review.
That is not to say that the other three divisions got a complete green light. The report goes on to say that all four divisions provide guidance that projects in extended operations should cost less, with astrophysics and heliophysics specifying than the costs for extended mission operations should be one-third less that during the primary mission phase. Only rarely are costs reduced to that level, however, and sometimes they actually go up. Of the 22 projects investigated, only one received one-third less in its first year of extended operations and 10 of the 22 received more and the "pattern remained relatively constant through the first 3 years of extended operations." According to a chart in the report, examples of the projects that received more in their first year of extended operations than in the last year of primary operations are Aqua, Cloudsat, IBEX, Spitzer Space Telescope, STEREO, SWIFT, and Terra.
The OIG offered four recommendations to improve the Senior Review process, three of which were targeted specifically at the PSD. SMD Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld responded in a letter that is appended to the report. He generally concurred with the recommendations while acknowledging that there may be cases where flexibility is required. For example, the OIG recommended that funding and program guidance be provided for "at least the next four fiscal years," instead of two as is currently the practice for PSD. Grunsfeld said he was not opposed to reconsidering PSD's two-year horizon, but that the missions vary enough between divisions that "tailored approaches" may be needed.
Grunsfeld also said that NASA would continue to exclude missions from Senior Reviews if their primary mission operations had not begun by the time the Senior Review was conducted. For example, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission was not included in the recently completed 2014 Senior Review because it had not yet reached Mars. The OIG argued, however, that the Senior Review covered operations for FY2015-2016 and by then MAVEN will be past its primary operational period.
NASA today rescinded its directive to Boeing and SpaceX to stop work on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts because of the protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). The agency said it was acting under its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In a posting to its commercial crew website, NASA said a failure to provide commercial crew services for the ISS as soon as possible could pose a risk to ISS crews, jeopardize continued ISS operations, delay increasing the size of the ISS crew from 6 to 7 (the additional crew member's time would be primarily devoted to scientific research that is the fundamental rationale for building the ISS), and could result in the United States failing to meet its international commitments.
"These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended," NASA said.
NASA awarded the CCtCAP contracts on September 16, but SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 26. GAO has 100 days to rule on the protest, which could have delayed worked until January 2015.
Arianespace released the results of an investigation into why two European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellites were left in the wrong orbit following a launch using Russia's Soyuz rocket with Fregat upper stage. The root cause was a "shortcoming" in the system thermal analysis of the Fregat design that led to freezing of the hydrazine fuel.
The conclusion was reached by an Independent Inquiry Board established by Arianespace after the August 22, 2014 anomaly. The two Galileo satellites, intended to be the first of the Full Operational System, were stranded in an orbit that renders them unable to perform their primary mission. The inquiry Board was led by Peter Dubock, former Inspector General of the European Space Agency (ESA). The EU is funding the Galileo navigation satellite system, which is similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). ESA is the EU's design and procurement agent for Galileo. The EU plans to have 30 operational Galileo satellites in orbit by the end of the decade.
Arianespace launches Russia's Soyuz rocket from its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, through a partnership with Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, and two Russian manufacturers -- RKTs-Progress, which builds Soyuz, and NPO Lavochkin, which builds the Fregat upper stage.
At first, the August 22 launch seemed to go fine, but the satellites were later discovered in the wrong orbit. The Arianespace inquiry drew on data supplied by its Russian partners and its findings "are consistent with" a separate board of inquiry appointed by Roscosmos.
The Soyuz rocket was exonerated and found to have performed as planned. The problem was in the Fregat upper stage because the hydrazine fuel froze and blocked the fuel supply to the Fregat's thrusters. The fuel froze because the hydrazine and cold helium feed lines were connected by the same support structure, creating a thermal bridge. The root cause was found to be "ambiguities" in the design documentation as the result of poor system thermal analysis in the design phase.
Arianespace concluded that the issue is easy for Lavochkin to resolve and launches could resume as early as December 2014. The company also noted that this failure followed 45 consecutive successful uses of the Fregat.
UPDATE 2, October 10: The MIT students will hold a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session from 3:00-6:00 pm ET today to answer questions about their analysis (username: MarsOneAnalysis). The AMA can be accessed at: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2ivo0t/we_are_the_authors_of_the_mit_mars_one/. They also have posted an Open Letter to further explain their purpose and conclusions. If we learn of Mars One holding any similar public discussion, we will be happy to spread the word on that as well.
UPDATE: This October 7, 2014 article was updated on October 8 with a response from Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp. On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp added a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining some of his concerns about the MIT analysis.
An analysis by a team of MIT students of the Mars One concept to send people to Mars on one-way missions to establish a settlement there offers a bleak picture of the outcome. The paper was presented at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto last week.
Sydney Do, Koki Ho, Samuel Schreiner, Andrew Owens and Olivier de Weck conducted “An Independent Assessment of the Technical Feasibility of the Mars One Mission Plan” supported by grants from NASA and the Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust.
The team looked at the Mars One plan as outlined in public sources, especially its assertions that a sustainable society on Mars can be established beginning in the 2020s using existing technology. A “pre-deployment” phase between 2018 and 2023 would send robotic precursors and establish a crew “habitat” on the surface to await the first crew, which would be launched in 2024. Additional four-person crews and habitats would be launched at every 26-month opportunity thereafter.
Because many details of the Mars One plan are not available, the MIT team made a number of assumptions that are comprehensively explained in order to conduct their analysis.
Some of the key conclusions of the study are that:
The lead author, Sydney Do, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said via email that in his view “the Mars One Concept is unsustainable” because of the current state of technology and its “aggressive expansion approach” of quickly adding more and more people rather than keeping the settlement at a fixed size for a period of time.
The paper acknowledges that the study was based on "the best available information” and the team is willing to update their analysis if more information becomes available.
MarsOne co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp, in an email to SpacePolicyOnline.com on October 8, said that while he welcomed the students' analysis, his company does not have time to respond to all the questions it receives from students and "the lack of time for support from us combined with their limited experience results in incorrect conclusions."
Editor's Note: Mr. Lansdorp's October 8 email discusses several areas where he believes the MIT analysis is incorrect. We encouraged him to post his entire comment to our website's DisQus feature, but he declined. We responded that if he does post his entire reaction elsewhere (perhaps on the Mars One site), we will be happy to include a link to it.
Editor's Note 2: On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp did, indeed, add a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining his concerns. It can be found in the comment stream labeled "Bas Lansdorp."
Stephen Volz has been chosen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to succeed Mary Kicza as head of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS). Volz begins his new duties on November 2.
Volz comes to NOAA from NASA, where he was associate director for Flight Programs in the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). NASA and NOAA have a close relationship on environmental satellites, which includes weather satellites. NASA is the procurement agent for NOAA's satellites, overseeing their development and launch after NOAA sets the requirements. NESDIS is the part of NOAA that is responsible for satellites, including the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series now in development.
NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan praised Volz's "outstanding executive leadership skills and technical expertise." And while NASA may be losing a top manager, SMD Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld also expressed enthusiasm: "We are thrilled that NOAA has selected one of our top program managers" and "I look forward to working with him as [both agencies] continue to support a weather-ready nation."
Dr. Stephen Volz. Photo credit: NOAA
At NASA headquarters, Volz was the program executive for CloudSat, CALIPSO and ICEsat. While at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, he was an instrument manager, a systems engineer, and a cryogenic systems engineer on programs including the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), a satellite that enabled discoveries that won John Mather and George Smoot Nobel Prizes. Volz also worked at Ball Aerospace, where he led the design and development of the Spitzer Space Telescope. He has a Ph.D. in experimental condensed matter physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Volz succeeds Mary Kicza, who also joined NOAA from NASA. She retired earlier this year.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 6-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
World Space Week 2014 continues (it began on Saturday) with events worldwide commemorating the beginning of the Space Age on October 4, 1957 and the benefits derived from space over the decades. This year's theme is "Space: Guiding Your Way" and the DC chapter of the International Space University alumni association will hold a Space Café on Tuesday featuring James Miller, who works for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program.
Two of the five standing committees of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) will meet this week. The five committees align with the five Decadal Surveys the SSB produces that advise NASA and other agencies on the top space science priorities. The committees provide a forum to maintain discussion about the topics in between the once-a-decade (hence "decadal") reports. This is the first meeting of the new Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, formed after completion of the first Decadal Survey for that field of research, which was published in 2011. It is meeting at the NRC's Keck Center on 5th Street Tuesday and Wednesday, though the sessions on Wednesday are closed to the public. The SSB's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet Tuesday-Thursday across town at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Ave. It will have open sessions the first two days. (If you're keeping track, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences and the Committee on Earth Science and Applications in Space met in September; the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meets in November.)
On Tuesday the first of two "U.S." spacewalks scheduled for October will take place from the International Space Station (ISS). They are "U.S." because they involve tasks on the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) and the spacewalkers will be wearing U.S. spacesuits, but one of the two is Europe's Alexander Gerst (joining NASA's Reid Wiseman) so it really is a U.S./ESA spacewalk. Next week (October 15) Wiseman and NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore will do another spacewalk, and the week after that, on October 22, two of the Russian cosmonauts will do a spacewalk on their segment of the ISS. It's a busy time on the ISS with visiting spacecraft coming and going in addition to those spacewalks. Three new crewmembers just arrived on September 25. Two cargo spacecraft, a Russian Progress and SpaceX Dragon, already docked there will depart and be replaced by a new Progress and an Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus later this month.
Those and other events for the week of October 6-10 that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
October 6-10, Monday- Friday
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
Bigelow Aerospace plans to make being an astronaut less special because there will be so many of them promised the company’s Washington representative Mike Gold. Gold was one of the panelists at a session of the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) today (October 2) on what’s next after the International Space Station (ISS).
As has been typical at this IAC, top level representatives of Russia and China are not here to participate in plenary sessions because of visa issues, but others from those countries were able to attend to present papers in technical sessions. In this case, Zhao Yuqi of China’s Manned Spaceflight Agency was absent from this post-ISS plenary. Nonetheless, the panel provided a broad array of viewpoints, from Gold’s private sector perspective, to Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA, to Hansjörg Dittus from the German space agency DLR, to German former astronaut Ernst Messerschmid, currently a professor at the Universität Stuttgart.
If there was one message from all of them it was that the International Space Station (ISS), while an outstanding success with tremendous potential, will be one-of-a-kind.
Dittus made a case for a modular approach to future space facilities where the modules are not linked together as they are in ISS. He advocates a separation of tasks in separate modules to avoid complex international agreements and technical interfaces. He also thinks the modules should be equipped as observatories, especially for earth remote sensing, not as laboratories.
The panelists were asked if they were told to build a space station again, would they build another ISS. Gerstenmaier, who heads NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said that if someone gave him the money to build another low Earth orbit (LEO) space station “I’d give it back.” His message was that NASA and its ISS partners are demonstrating that there is a reason for others – the private sector – to go there, but another government-sponsored LEO space station is “not what we need to do.” Instead “we’re going to explore.”
Messerschmid outlined technologies that will enable exploration, advocating “To Mars, together.”
Gold, who can be counted on for pithy observations replete with references to Star Trek, did not disappoint. Among his major messages was that just as countries need to work together, so do companies. He argued against pitting “new space” against “old space” because “the pie is too small.” Borrowing a quote from Benjamin Franklin, he said “if we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.” Later, when questions turned to the appropriate degree of risk taking for human spaceflight programs, he quoted “a famous Canadian, William Shatner” who said in his role as Captain Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise “Risk? It’s why we’re here.” Gold went on to talk about financial risk, and noted that a Russian colleague ruefully commented to him that Russian billionaires buy yachts while American billionaires create space companies.
Regarding risk, Gerstenmaier explained the three-tier approach NASA is using to describe the steps away from Earth: Earth Reliant in LEO where crews can return home in hours; Proving Ground in cis-lunar space where getting home requires many days; and Earth Independent when the tie to Earth is broken. He said NASA was not ready from a risk standpoint to send crews to an asteroid in its native orbit (as President Obama initially directed), but the Asteroid Retrieval Mission, where the crews will be in the Proving Ground region, is the right step – not too much risk, nor too little.
In a philosophical moment, Gerstenmaier talked about how ISS crew members landing in Kazakhstan say they are “home” no matter where on Earth they are from. “We have changed the definition of home,” he said, where “home” is Earth. He said his vision is that someday LEO or cis-lunar space will be “home.”
In response to a question about whether there is a future for young people to be astronauts, Gold said “I want to see a day when being an astronaut is something you do to make a living,” not an elite profession. Bigelow is committed to making astronauts “not special” because there will be so many of them and from all over the world. He noted that right now there are six seats for ISS crews, three of which are occupied by Russians, two by Americans, and one by other countries. “One seat for all the other countries?” Bigelow “is determined to change that,” he exclaimed.
Gerstenmaier took a different tack, stressing that one does not need to be an astronaut. What is important is being part of a high performing team: “If you’re lucky, you get to be at the pointy end of the rocket, but it is just as rewarding to be one of the engineers sitting in the back.”
The question of cooperating with China arose as it often does in these settings. Gerstenmaier pointed out that under current law NASA cannot discuss human space cooperation with China, but expressed hope that the situation may change in the future. Gold agreed that if mutual benefit can be shown, the China door may open, but for now China is the “third rail” of export control politics. Although changes are being made to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), they do not apply to China, he pointed out.
Editor’s note: this is our final IAC2014 report. The conference continues tomorrow, but we must depart.
Boeing and SpaceX were directed by NASA to stop work under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts because of Sierra Nevada’s protest of the award.
The CCtCAP contracts were awarded on September 16, 2014: $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX. CCtCAP is the final phase of NASA’s commercial crew development program that is expected to lead to new crew space transportation systems by the end of 2017. Since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011, NASA has had to rely on Russia to take crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The commercial crew program is intended to restore America's ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.
Boeing. SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are all funded under the current phase of the program called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Boeing has completed all of its CCiCAP milestones, but SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have not.
Sierra Nevada filed a protest of the CCtCAP award with the Government Accountablity Office (GAO) on September 25.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said in an emailed statement this afternoon that “Pursuant to the GAO protest, NASA has instructed Boeing and SpaceX to stop performance of the CCtCAP contracts.” The stop work order does not affect CCiCAP, however: “All work related to NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) Space Act Agreements (SAA) will continue,” she added.
One of the highlights at today’s (October 1) International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) was a presentation by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Vulcan Inc., Paul Allen’s investment group that is funding the development of Stratolaunch. The two companies are discussing a potential partnership wherein Stratolaunch would be used to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into low Earth orbit (LEO).
Vulcan oversees Paul Allen’s financial interests, ranging from the Seattle Seahawks to real estate to philanthropy to Allen’s “pet thing” – space exploration, according to Chuck Beames, who briefed an IAC2014 crowd along with SNC’s Mark Sirangleo. Beames heads Vulcan Aerospace, a Vulcan division, and is Executive Director of Stratolaunch. He joined Vulcan earlier this year after serving as principal director, space and intelligence, to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and overseeing the acquisition restructuring of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is perhaps best known in the space business as the financial backer of Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne design, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. One of Allen’s current projects is Stratolaunch, an aircraft that would serve as a launch platform for a three-stage rocket, Thunderbolt, to send people or cargo into suborbital or orbital spaceflight. As Beames described it, Stratolaunch, with a 385 foot wingspan, can launch 13,500 pounds into low Earth orbit (LEO). The plane is expected to have its first flight in 2016 with a demonstration space launch in 2018.
A Stratolaunch-Dream Chaser system envisions using Stratolaunch to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into space with cargo or two-three crew. It could launch and return to the launch site within 24 hours in a “responsive space” mode. It could take off from anywhere in the world and deliver cargo or people to any inclination orbit and, with its cross-range capability, land anywhere there is a runway that can handle a 747 or A320 aircraft.
SNC has a strong presence here at IAC2014, with company officials, including Sirangleo, stressing the company's 26-year history in the space business and Dream Chaser's origin as a NASA design for returning crews from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA's program, HL-20, was cancelled and SNC picked it up. SNC is one of the three companies supported by NASA in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program, but recently lost out to Boeing and SpaceX on the final phase, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP). SNC is protesting that decision.
Beames said taking crews or cargo to the ISS is only one possibility and that as a former "Air Force guy" he is “excited” about the military possibilities of such a capability. In a later interview, he offered the example of launching smaller versions of GPS to reconstitute the GPS constellation on an as-needed basis.
Beames stressed that no final decision has been made on the partnership and the next step is to "mature the architecture."
Day 2 of the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) kicked off with a plenary session on commercial space followed by a technical session on the same topic. Both played to packed houses, a change from the past where commercial space sessions were often among the most lightly attended. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) was particularly in the limelight, with technical papers and press events highlighting Dream Chaser’s versatility and a range of partnerships including a new “Global Project” to globalize Dream Chaser’s business base.
SNC is protesting its loss of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts and NASA and SNC officials are fervently avoiding answering any questions about CCtCAP. (NASA officials would not even answer a generic question about whether the 2-6 operational flights in the contracts assume that International Space Station operations will be extended to 2024.)
However, SNC is also participating in the current Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase. Following SNC’s Global Project press conference, John Olson, SNC Vice President of Space Systems, said that the company is “marching forward” to meet its two remaining CCiCAP milestones and Dream Chaser’s first launch (without a crew) aboard an Atlas V remains on schedule for November 2016. However, the company is awaiting “further dialogue and discourse” with NASA to see if the agency has additional guidance it wants to provide on CCiCAP.
Global Project is an “opportunity to change the world,” enthused SNC’s Cassie Lee by offering Dream Chaser as a “turnkey” system to countries around the world for crewed or uncrewed customized flights. Dream Chaser is “launch vehicle agnostic” she stressed and while the company has been working with Atlas V for many years, it can be launched from other rockets and land in other places in the world. She provided no details on cost – it is “not a price per seat or price per pound” she said – or what other launch vehicles are capable of launching it, but Olson explained later that it could be launched by Delta IV, Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy in the United States, or by SNC’s European or Japanese partners using Ariane V (ES or ME), possibly Ariane 6, or H-IIB. Dream Chaser can also land in other countries, Lee said, and is easy to return to a launch site via flatbed truck or cargo aircraft since Dream Chaser is only 30 feet long and the wings and rudder are removable.
Later in the day SNC announced another new initiative with Stratolaunch that involves a “scaled version” of Dream Chaser integrated with a Stratolaunch air launch system. More details will be announced here at IAC2014 tomorrow.
Meanwhile, although visa problems prevented China and Russia from participating in yesterday’s Heads of Agencies panels, there is some representation from both countries here. China’s space agency has a substantial presence in the exhibit hall (by contrast, NASA does not have an exhibit there at all) and at least one Russian, Alexander Derechin, presented his paper on Russia’s space tourism activities. He noted that Sarah Brightman will begin training for her mission next year. When asked if any wealthy Russians are on the list of future space tourists, he said he had approached four individuals, but there were no takers yet.
The IAC is a dizzying array of parallel sessions throughout each day on technical, policy and legal space issues. Many papers with Russian and Chinese authors are listed in the program and it is not possible to be in every session to keep score of who actually came to Toronto, but it can be said that Russia and China were not completely excluded from the conference.
Among today’s other tidbits are the following:
Events of Interest