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Shotwell: Couple More Months Before Falcon 9 Launches Again, Will be New Version

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2015 (Updated: 31-Aug-2015 07:54 PM)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said today that it will be a "couple of months" before the Falcon 9 rocket returns to flight, longer than the company anticipated.   She also said it would be the first flight of an upgraded version of the rocket.

Speaking on a panel at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, CA, Shotwell said the company still believes that the cause of the June 28 Falcon 9 failure was a bad strut in the upper stage.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that preliminary finding in late July, but said the investigation was ongoing.   Shotwell said today nothing has changed that diagnosis.

She said it now was not just a matter of fixing the problem, which is "easy," but taking advantage of lessons learned and ensuring there are no other problems in the vehicle or the supply chain.  It is "taking more time than we originally envisioned," but she does not expect customers to object since they do not want to rush and potentially have another failure.

Shotwell characterized fixing technical problems as "fun challenges."  The bigger challenge for SpaceX, she said, is "maintaining the fast pace of innovation" while still executing the launch manifest for its customers.  "We don't want to lose that pace of innovation ... that sense of our genetics, how we grew up" while still providing reliable, predictable launches.

The panel was entitled "Executive Vision Discussion" and in addition to Shotwell featured NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Lockheed Martin Vice President and General Manger for Civil Space Wanda Sigur, and Vice Commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Command Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry.  AIAA President and former Boeing executive Jim Albaugh served as moderator.

Albaugh asked all the panelists what they thought a comparable panel in 2035 would be talking about. 

Shotwell said she hoped they'd be discussing new propulsion systems "to take us out of the galaxy."   

Lightfoot replied that he hoped they would be talking about the results of samples returned from Mars.   Separately he was asked "are we less than 20 years away from humans on Mars?"   NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has used that as a theme recently, insisting that, for the first time, it is a reality.   Lightfoot was more circumspect, saying he expected humans to be "around Mars at least" in the mid-2030s, but landing large masses has many challenges.

NASA's "Journey to Mars" was a major theme for LIghtfoot and Sigur.  Sigur opened the panel by presenting a plaque to AIAA commemorating last December's Orion test.  She and Lightfoot pointed to the difficulty in pursuing such a long term mission when the set of politicians who determine policy and budgets change every two years.

McMurry, on the other hand, quipped that sending people to Mars was not his focus.  His message was three-fold: resilience is the watchword of the day, but  "we have to figure out what resilience is" and how to measure it; protecting space systems from cybersecurity threats is important, but many space systems "are older than me" and the key is to focus not on how to prevent an attack, but how to cope with it when it happens; and the national security community needs to change its "mindset" in this new era of commercial spaceflight.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 31 - September 11, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2015 (Updated: 30-Aug-2015 03:51 PM)

Summer is coming to an end and this will be the last of our "summer vacation" multi-week lists of upcoming space policy events.  This edition covers two weeks, August 31-September 11.  The House and Senate return to work on September 8.

During the Week

This week begins with AIAA's Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, CA tomorrow (Monday) through Wednesday.   If you can't be there in person, AIAA is providing a livestream of at least some of the sessions (the event's website does not indicate which ones).  Four plenary sessions may be of particular interest and hopefully are among those that will be webcast:

  • Monday, August 31, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Executive Vision Discussion (with Jim Albaugh, Robert Lightfoot, Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, Wanda Sigur, and Gwynne Shotwell)
  • Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), The Business of Space--How is the Space Business Evolving to Meet Future Needs?
  • Wednesday, September 2, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Pioneering Space
  • Wednesday, September 2, 1:15-2:00 pm PDT (4:15-5:00 EDT), Future Explorations: Our Solar System's Origins, Water and Life

Another event of special interest is the launch of Soyuz TMA-18M very early Wednesday morning (12:37 am Eastern Daylight Time--EDT).  This mission is a bit of an anomaly in recent years where two of the three crew will remain on board the International Space Station (ISS) for just one week instead of several months.   ESA's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov will return to Earth on September 11 EDT (September 12 local time at the landing site) along with Russia's Gennady Padalka, who has been on ISS since March.  Padalka launched with NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko and those two are staying aboard for a one-year mission, but their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft can only remain on orbit for six months so it and Padalka -- along with Mogensen and Aimbetov -- will come back to Earth. Russia's Sergei Volkov will command Soyuz TMA-18M and replace Padalka.

Mogensen and Aimbetov's time aboard ISS will be even shorter than expected because last week the decision was made to use the two-day rendezvous trajectory to get there instead of the new six-hour direct ascent route introduced for crew launches on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013.  The two-day trip is necessary because the ISS orbit was raised recently to avoid a piece of space junk, changing the orbital dynamics involved in getting there.  The new orbit also caused a one day slip in the launch date (from September 1).  The Soyuz TMA-18M crew now will arrive on September 4, giving Mogensen and Aimbetov just seven and a half days on ISS.  It may be just as well since the ISS will be a bit crowded -- for the first time since November 2013, there will be nine people aboard.  On the other hand, ESA said that it means significant replanning of Mogensen's research activities and some experiments will have to be left for other astronauts to complete in the future.

Aimbetov, by the way, was a last minute addition to the crew after singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from the mission.  A military pilot, he was selected as a Kazakh cosmonaut in 2002 and trained at Star City.  He became a Russian citizen along the way, but is flying as a Kazakh, not Russian, crew member.  He was assigned to the flight in June and Kazakh officials say they are paying $20 million, so he apparently is filling Brightman's "space tourist" slot, although he has been through the full training regimen.  He will be the third Kazakh cosmonaut (after Toktar Aubakirov and Talgat Musabayev), not counting Soviet cosmonauts from Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Those events and others that we know about as of today (August 30) for the next two weeks are listed below.

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • AIAA Space 2015, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA (some events will be livestreamed; note that times listed on the conference's agenda are in local time)

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Friday, September 4

Tuesday, September 8

  • Congress returns: House meets at 2:00 pm EDT for legislative business; Senate meets at 2:00 pm EDT

Tuesday-Thursday, September 8-10

Wednesday, September 9

Thursday, September 10

Friday, September 11

NASA Assures Congress Orb-3 and SpX-7 Investigations Are Similar

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2015 (Updated: 27-Aug-2015 10:04 AM)

NASA told Congress this week that it is not giving SpaceX special treatment in the investigation of the Orb-3 and SpX-7 launch failures, but that the investigations are quite similar.  It said the perception that NASA's role in studying the SpaceX failure is less intense is the result of a misunderstanding.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote to NASA earlier this month asking a series of questions about NASA's role in finding the causes of the two failures:  the October 28, 2014 failure of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket with a Cygnus capsule loaded with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) and the June 28, 2015 failure of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule also full of supplies for the ISS.  Both launches were under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract between NASA and the two companies.  The Antares/Cygnus launch was Orbital's third CRS launch, Orb-3.   SpaceX's launch was its seventh under the CRS contract -- SpaceX CRS-7 or SpX-7.

As commercial launches, they were licensed by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and the accident investigations conducted pursuant to AST regulations.  Accordingly, the companies themselves are in charge of the investigations, not the FAA or NASA.

Smith basically wanted to know why NASA set up an Independent Review Team (IRT) in the wake of the Orb-3 accident, but did not for SpX-7 and whether that implied that SpaceX was being given preferential treatment.

NASA's August 24 response, signed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, was that although it may not seem so on the surface, NASA's handling of both launch failures is similar.   The major difference is that Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK following a merger with ATK earlier this year) is only providing Antares launch services to NASA under the CRS contract while SpaceX's Falcon 9 may also be used for other NASA launches, such as the upcoming launch of the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite, under a different NASA contract, NASA Launch Services II (NLS II).  Furthermore, Falcon 9 will be used for SpaceX's launches of crew to the ISS under the commercial crew program.  Antares will not.

Bolden's argument is that NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), which administers the NLS II contract, and commercial crew program have sufficient insight into SpaceX's activities to satisfy the function of an IRT.

NASA chose to establish an IRT for the Orb-3 failure and "[w]hile it may not have been as visible, we chose to do a similar thing for the SpaceX failure, conducting an independent review, but using existing mechanisms that were already in place," Bolden wrote.  Because of this "misunderstanding," many of the questions posed by Smith were "written under an incorrect premise...."

The five page letter, plus enclosures, goes on to respond to the "spirit of those questions," concluding that NASA is, in fact, conducting independent reviews of both failures and of the Orbital ATK and SpaceX "approaches to return to flight."  One of the enclosures is an August 3 memorandum for the record from NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, stating that "I have been closely observing the inclusion of NASA in the [Falcon 9 failure] investigation and have determined that NASA LSP should serve the function of an independent review team for NASA for this investigation."

Orbital ATK determined that a malfunction of the NK33/AJ-26 Russian rocket engines on Antares caused the Orb-3 failure, although the official report has not been released yet.  It will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket for its next Cygnus cargo launch (OA-4) to ISS in December.  Antares is expected to return to flight, outfitted with different Russian rocket engines, in March 2016. 

SpaceX made a preliminary finding that the SpX-7 failure was due to a bad strut in the rocket's upper stage, but the investigation is ongoing and the company has not announced when the Falcon 9 will return to flight or what it will launch.   SpaceX has a long list of customers, both commercial and government, for Falcon 9 launches. 

The next Falcon 9 NASA launch is Jason-3, which was supposed to go in July after several earlier satellite-related delays.   During a media telecon today on NASA's studies of sea level rise, JPL's Josh Willis said the launch could take place later this year or early next, depending on when the Falcon 9 resumes service.  He said the launch would take place as soon as possible, but only when it can be done safely.  Jason-3 is a cooperative program between NOAA and Europe's EUMETSAT, with participation by NASA and its French counterpart, CNES.  NASA and CNES built the first two in the series and a predecessor, Topex-Poseidon.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 24-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Aug-2015 (Updated: 23-Aug-2015 03:33 PM)

Summer will be over before we know it, but for now, our list of upcoming space policy events still spans the next couple of weeks while "business" is slow.   Congress returns on September 8, the day after Labor Day.

During the Week

This week starts off with the docking of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) HTV5 (Kounotori5) cargo spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS).   The spacecraft was successfully launched on Wednesday and has been catching up with ISS ever since.   JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS and will be at the controls of Canada's robotic Canadarn2 tomorrow morning (Monday) to capture it.   That event is expected about 6:55 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV coverage begins at 5:15 am EDT.  JAXA's coverage begins at 6:05 am EDT.  Installation of HTV5 onto the Harmony node will follow at about 9:45 am EDT.  The crew surely will be happy to get those 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and science experiments following the three cargo mission failures (one U.S. Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus, one Russian Soyuz/Progress, and one U.S. SpaceX Falcon/Dragon) since last October.   It should be noted, of course, that there also have been five successful cargo missions (three Russian Progresses and two U.S. SpaceX Dragons) during that time, which, if anything, demonstrates just how much resupply from Earth is needed to sustain the crew and their work.

Tomorrow also is the first day of the three-day Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.  These "AGs" -- assessment groups or analysis groups but NOT "advisory" groups -- apparently no longer are officially part of NASA's advisory process, but are still an opportunity for members of the relevant science community to get together and interact with each other and NASA officials.   The meeting is available virtually via WebEx and telecon.  Among the many interesting sessions, Bob Pappalardo will talk about plans for the Europa mission on Monday at 3:15 pm ET and Alan Stern is scheduled to talk about the New Horizons Pluto mission on Tuesday at 1:30 pm ET.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is scheduled to speak at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon on Tuesday.  (The event is listed on MSBR's website, but the link to the flyer is inactive.  We assume that's a glitch and the event is going on as planned, but you might want to check with MSBR to be sure).  Edwards is the top Democrat ("ranking member") on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and a strong NASA supporter, especially of projects at Goddard Space Flight Center near her district.  Her interest in space goes much further, though.  Never mind just trying to convince her colleagues to fund NASA's "Journey to Mars," she has said publicly that she wants to go there herself.   Right now, though, she is focused on her current job representing Maryland's 4th congressional district and running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

On Friday, the Earth Science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council will meet telephonically.  An agenda is not yet posted on the subcommittee's website, but the Federal Register notice says it is an annual performance review of the Earth Science program as required under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  The public is welcome to listen in.

Those events and others coming up the first week of September that we know about as of today, August 23, are listed below.

Monday, August 24

  • HTV5 arrival at ISS, grapple 6:55 am ET, installation 9:45 am ET (times are approximate)   Watch on NASA TV (5:15 am ET) and JAXA's YouTube site (6:05 am ET)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

  • OPAG, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD (available via WebEx and telecon)

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4


JAXA Successfuly Launches HTV5 Cargo Ship to ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2015 (Updated: 19-Aug-2015 09:20 AM)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA) successfully launched its fifth cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) today.   The HTV5 or Kounotori5 mission is due to arrive at the ISS on Monday.

This fifth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV5) is taking about 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the ISS crew.  Of that, approximately 8,000 pounds is pressurized cargo including 3,000 pounds of food, water, clothing and perishable goods; 1,900 pounds of vehicle hardware including two new science racks; 2,700 pounds of science equipment; and 170 pounds of equipment for spacewalks.  The remainder is unpressurized cargo, including JAXA's CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) that will search for signatures of dark matter.  CALET's principal investigator is Shorji Torii of Waseda University in Tokyo.

The HTV5 capsule is designated Kounotori (White Stork) so the mission is referred to by JAXA as HTV5 or Kounotori5 (NASA adds hyphens so calls it HTV-5 or Kounotori-5).

JAXA's H-IIB rocket minutes before liftoff from Tanegashima, Japan carrying HTV5.  August 19, 2015.  Photo credit:  NASA TV

In one sense this is a routine cargo launch, one of many needed each year to keep the ISS and its crew functioning.  Cargo launches to the ISS have been anything but routine over the past year, however, with three failures of U.S. and Russian systems:  U.S. Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares failure on October  28, 2014 (Orb-3); Russia's Soyuz 2.1a failure on April 28, 2015 (Progress M-27M); and U.S. SpaceX's Falcon 9 failure on June 28, 2015 (SpaceX-7).

Russia's Progress since has returned to flight, with the successful Progress M-28M now docked to the ISS.  Orbital Sciences Corporation merged with ATK earlier this year and Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft is expected to return to service on December 3, but aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket rather than Antares.  Orbital ATK is refitting Antares with a different rocket engine (Russia's RD-181) and the first launch of this new version of Antares is expected in the first quarter of 2016.   SpaceX has not announced when the Falcon 9 will resume launches or what the first one will carry.

HTV5 is now on its way to ISS, however, with a smooth launch at 8:50:49 pm Japan Standard Time (7:50:49 am Eastern Daylight Time) today.   It is on a 5-day rendezvous trajectory, with arrival at the ISS scheduled for Monday, August 24.  The ISS crew will use the robotic Canadarm2 to grapple HTV5 at approximately 6:55 am EDT and it will be berthed to the ISS Harmony module about three hours later.

JAXA's Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS along with five other ISS crew members:  two from NASA (Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren) and three from Roscosmos (Mikhail Kornienko, Gennady Padalka, and Oleg Kononenko).  Yui will operate Canadarm2 on Monday to capture HTV5.  Lindgren will assist as necessary.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 17-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Aug-2015 (Updated: 16-Aug-2015 06:38 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events.  This edition covers the next three weeks, through Labor Day Weekend when "summer" unofficially ends for those of us in the United States.  Labor Day is the first Monday in September. This year it is September 7.  Congress and the regular routine of business return on September 8.

During the Week

This coming week leaves lots of time for summer fun, with just one event on our calendar at the moment -- the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) launch of the HTV5 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  The launch has been delayed twice already because of weather and JAXA cautions that more weather delays are possible. For now the launch is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19, at 7:50 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 7:00 am EDT.  The cargo capsule is named Kounotori (white stork) so this is sometimes referred to as Kounotori-5.

This is the fifth Japanese cargo mission to ISS and a Japanese astronaut is aboard ISS to welcome it.  Kimiya Yui arrived on July 22 with his Soyuz TMA-17M crew mates Kjell Lindgren (NASA) and Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos). The other three ISS crew members are Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), Mikhail Kornienko (Roscosmos), and Scott Kelly (NASA).  Kelly and Kornienko are not quite mid-way through their "year in space."  Yesterday was day 141 according to Kelly, who regularly tweets (@StationCDRKelly) about his experiences.  Whenever it launches, HTV5 should arrive at the ISS five days later.

That and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Wednesday, August 19

  • JAXA launch of HTV5, Tanegashima, Japan, 7:50 am EDT (NASA TV coverage begins at 7:00 am EDT)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Trump: "I Want To Rebuild Our Infrastructure" Before Sending People to Mars

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Aug-2015 (Updated: 15-Aug-2015 06:49 PM)

Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the idea of sending people to Mars is "wonderful," but "I want to rebuild our infrastructure first."  His demeanor suggested an even deeper skepticism.

Trump was holding a campaign rally at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire when a young man who identified himself as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow in a joint MIT-Harvard Medical School program asked about putting humans on Mars.  He noted that Trump complains that the United States needs to have victories again, and in the aerospace industry "one of our biggest victories was putting man on the Moon."  

Trump agreed with that, but when the NASA Fellow continued with his question -- what did Trump think about sending humans to Mars -- Trump's opinion was displayed more by his body language and tone of voice than his words.  Shrugging and grimacing, he replied --

"Honestly, I think it's wonderful.  I want to rebuild our infrastructure first.  OK?  I think it's wonderful."  He then looked into the audience while pointing at the questioner dismissively.

The event was recorded by C-SPAN and the exchange can be seen in its entirety beginning at 47:29. 

Trump is the latest of the presidential candidates to express views about the space program.   

  • Jeb Bush: "I'm a space guy."  
  • Hillary Clinton: "I really, really do support the space program" and wanted to be an astronaut as a teenager.  
  • Ted Cruz offered his views on the strengths and weaknesses of two fictional Starship captains (Kirk and Picard) during a media interview.  More seriously, he has chaired hearings of his Senate Commerce subcommittee on Space, Science and Innovation where he expressed enthusiasm for commercial space and NASA's exploration programs, but does not think earth science should be a NASA priority.  A bill he sponsored, S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, recently passed the Senate.  Cruz said the bill carries forward "President Reagan's torch" by continuing to support commercial space.
  • Marco Rubio was a co-sponsor on S. 1297 and said at the time of its passage "we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs." He added that the bill would "make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space" and "help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before."

On the campaign trail so far, the space program has come up only in media interviews or town hall meetings like Trump's.   No space questions were asked at the first Republican presidential primary debates on August 6, either at the 5:00 pm ET "happy hour" debate or the 9:00 pm ET main debate.

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, laid out bold goals for the space program, and he and Mitt Romney responded to questions about the space program in one of the televised debates.


Orbital Buys Second Atlas V for Cargo Launch, Antares Progressing to Return to Flight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Aug-2015 (Updated: 12-Aug-2015 10:05 AM)

Orbital ATK revealed today that it has purchased a second Atlas V rocket to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  The company already planned to use Atlas V for a December launch and now will use a second in 2016 along with two or three launches of its revamped Antares rocket.  An October 2014  Antares failure was the first of three failed cargo launches to ISS in less than a year that disrupted cargo deliveries, although NASA insists that U.S. ISS operations are unaffected. 

The company plans to use an Atlas V to launch Cygnus in December 2015, the first Cygnus launch under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA since the October 2014 failure.   Today's press release said only "early December," but NASA officials have publicly stated that the launch is scheduled for December 3. Orbital ATK refers to it as the "OA-4" mission.  Two successful Antares/Cygnus CRS cargo missions were flown by Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orb-1 and Orb-2) before its merger with ATK earlier this year.  The third in the series, Orb-3, was the failure.

In 2016, Orbital ATK will carry out "at least three more CRS missions: two (or possibly three) will be launched by Antares rockets ... and one more will be launched aboard Atlas V," according to Orbital ATK Space Systems President Frank Culbertson. 

The Antares return-to-flight mission is expected in the first quarter of 2016 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA.  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said last week that repairs to the MARS facility, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, are almost complete.  Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA are equally sharing the $15 million cost of the repairs.  McAuliffe said that a new arrangement has been negotiated with Orbital ATK regarding repair costs and insurance coverage for future missions.

The October 2014  Antares failure was caused by one of the Russian NK33 rocket engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26) and Orbital ATK is replacing them with a different Russian engine, RD-181.  Two engines are needed for each Antares rocket and Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson said during an investor teleconference last week that the engines were delivered in June and are being integrated into the Antares airframe now.  The retrofitted Antares will roll out to the pad in January for a "hot fire" engine test, Thompson added, although today's announcement said it could take place late this year or in January.  No announcement was made about exactly when the launch is planned, but March has been mentioned elsewhere.

Under the original CRS contract, Orbital ATK and its competitor, SpaceX, are each required to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016.   NASA awarded extensions to both companies' contracts to cover launches in 2017.  Thompson said last week that Orbital ATK was awarded two of them.  Orbital ATK has upgraded the Cygnus capsule so it can carry more mass so it anticipates that it can meet its contractual requirements using fewer launches than previously planned.

NASA and its ISS partners are recovering from a spate of cargo launch failures:  the October 28, 2014 Antares failure, a Russian Progress M-27M failure on April 28, 2015, and a SpaceX CRS-7 failure on June 28, 2015.   The Russians have since successfully launched another Progress.  A date for SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to resume has not been announced.

The next cargo mission to the ISS will be Japan's HTV5, which is scheduled for August 16, 2015.  Europe no longer launches its ATV cargo vehicle, so Japan's HTV, Russia's Progress, and the two U.S. capsules -- Orbital ATK's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon -- are the four vehicles used to deliver cargo at the present time.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 9-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Aug-2015 (Updated: 09-Aug-2015 01:10 PM)

With the relatively lazy days of summer upon us, the August weekly editions of "What's Happening" will cover multiple weeks.  The Senate has joined the House in recessing through Labor Day.  They return September 8.

During the Month

Some notable events have come to our attention since last week's edition.  John Sloan from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is the featured guest at the ISU-DC Space Cafe this Tuesday, August 11.  His topic is AST's international outreach, interesting in and of itself, but questions about AST's progress in responding to the NTSB's report on the SpaceShipTwo accident may also come up (though the answer may simply be that we all have to wait for the official response, which is due 90 days from when the report was received).

Another event that may be especially interesting is Thursday night's debate between Bas Lansdorp, President of Mars One, and two MIT graduate students (Sydney Do and Andrew Owens) who did a technical feasibility analysis of the plan that concluded it would have a "bleak outcome" as we wrote last fall.   The debate is part of the Mars Society's annual convention, which will be held at Catholic University in Washington, DC from August 13-16.  The Lansdorp/MIT debate is August 13 from 8:00-9:30 pm ET and is open to the public.

Coming up a week from Sunday is Japan's launch of HTV5, the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  We don't list routine cargo missions to ISS unless there is something non-routine going on and considering the recent failures of ISS cargo missions, HTV5 definitely qualifies.  NASA officials told the NASA Advisory Council at the end of July that some ISS supplies will be down to a 45-day margin by the time HTV5 launches on August 16.  NASA likes to maintain a 6-month margin.  The situation will be much improved once HTV5 arrives.  Launch is at 9:01 am Eastern Daylight Time (10:01 pm local time at the launch site in Tanegashima, Japan).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, August 9, are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 8-13

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

Thursday-Sunday, August 13-16

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

NASA Extends Contract for Russian Transport to ISS; Shireman is New ISS Program Manager

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 11:56 PM)

NASA notified Congress by letter today that it has signed a contract with Russia for additional seats on Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   The letter blamed congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the necessity to continue reliance on Russia.  The agency also announced a new ISS program manager, Kirk Shireman, who will succeed Mike Suffredini.

Saying that the new contract with Russia costs $490 million, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden stressed, as he has in many other forums, that U.S. crew transportation systems could have been in place this year if Congress had provided the requested funding and urged full funding this year. In the letter, he writes:  "I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry -- Boeing and SpaceX -- to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles" so launches can begin in 2017.

NASA is requesting $1.244 billion for commercial crew in FY2016.  The House approved $1.000 billion in its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that passed in June.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $900 million in its version of the bill, which has not been debated by the full Senate yet.  (See our fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information.)

President Obama announced the commercial crew program as part of the FY2011 budget request in February 2010.  Each year, Congress has approved less than the request because of competing budget priorities, skepticism that the commercial crew program will succeed technically and/or financially, and disagreement over how many companies NASA needed to support during the various phases of development. The request versus congressional funding so far are:

  • FY2011: requested $500 million, appropriated $321 million
  • FY2012: requested $850 million, appropriated $406 million
  • FY2013: requested $830 million. appropriated $525 million
  • FY2014: requested $821 million, appropriated $696 million
  • FY2015: requested $848 million, appropriated $805 million
  • FY2016: requested $1.244 billion, appropriated TBD ($1.0 billion passed by House; $900 million recommended by Senate Appropriations Committee).

NASA pays Russia for "seats" on Soyuz spacecraft, a term that encompasses other services such as training, and includes launch, landing, and emergency escape ("lifeboat") capabilities while in orbit.  This contract is for 6 more seats on flights in 2018.  That yields a price per seat of about $81 million, up from $76 million for 2017.  One of Bolden's complaints is that the money should be going to American companies, not Russian.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said in congressional testimony in February that the average price per seat for U.S. commercial crew systems will be $56 million.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected for the final phase of NASA's commercial crew program last year.  The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts cover completion of development and initial flights of Boeing's CST-100 capsule aboard Atlas V rockets and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule aboard Falcon 9 rockets.  The impact of the June 28 Falcon 9 failure while launching a robotic cargo version of Dragon to ISS is not yet known.  SpaceX has not announced when the next Falcon 9 launch will take place or what it will carry.  Falcon 9 is used today not only for cargo missions to the ISS for NASA, but launches of commercial satellites for a number of customers.

Meanwhile, Mike Suffredini, who has managed the ISS program for the past 10 years, is retiring from NASA to take a position in the private sector.  NASA announced today that he will be succeeded by Kirk Shireman, who is currently Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center.  Suffredini has been ISS program manager since 2005 and saw the ISS through recovery from the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy, completion of construction in 2011 (the same year the space shuttle program ended), and the first years of full operational capability.  Shireman was Suffredini's deputy for eight of those years (2006-2013).