Commercial Space News
In a wide-ranging “one-on-one” interview today at MIT, Elon Musk easily transitioned from technical to philosophical discussions about rockets, Mars exploration, Tesla cars, and hyperloops. From asking rhetorically whether buying lipstick is more important than colonizing Mars, to insisting that bringing Mars resources back to Earth is unrealistic even if it was cocaine, it was an entertaining exchange.
Musk’s interview by MIT aeronautics and astronautics department head Jaime Perarie was part of the department’s three-day centennial celebration that featured lectures and panel discussions by illustrious aerospace professionals, including many astronauts and MIT professor Dava Newman, recently nominated to be NASA Deputy Administrator.
Musk’s hour-and-a-half long session was split roughly 50-50 between questions from Perarie and from audience members, many of them students. He made many quotable comments, including the fact that SpaceX will try to land a Falcon 9 first stage on a floating platform as soon as the next flight, but at least sometime in the next 12 months, with the goal of reflying that stage as a demonstration of reusability.
Among the highlights of the space-related portions of the session are the following:
Why Colonize Mars?
International Cooperation or Competition?
Space Resources Will be Used in Space Not on Earth
One Way Trips to Mars
Other topics included space elevators (he’s skeptical, but happy to be proved wrong), artificial intelligence (which he referred to as “summoning a demon”), hyperloop systems (he offered technical advice to a student who tried to build one as a senior project), and his Tesla cars. The entire session is available on MIT’s website.
Google executive Alan Eustace set a new skydiving altitude record today, beating a record set just two years ago by Felix Baumgartner. Without the capsule or the publicity associated with Baumgartner's dive, Eustace ascended to 135,890 feet according to the New York Times.
Baumgartner set his altitude record of 127,852 feet in October 2012 amid great fanfare sponsored by Red Bull. He rode inside a capsule up to the release altitude, transmitting live audio and video until he stepped out of the capsule for his parachute descent to Earth.
Like Baumgarnter, Eustace wore a specially designed "spacesuit" for his trip into the stratosphere. Eustace's suit, developed by a team led by Paragon Space Development Corporation, is dubbed "StratEx" for Stratosphere Explorer. Protected only by the suit, Eustace "dangled" under the balloon for the two-hour ascent, then released himself and returned to land in just 15 minutes, breaking the sound barrier as he travelled up to 822 miles per hour according to the New York Times account. He landed 70 miles from his origination point near Roswell, NM.
The 57-year old Eustace chose to conduct his jump in secrecy and even declined support from his employer so it would not become a marketing effort according to the NYTimes story. He is Google's Senior Vice President, Knowledge.
Alan Eustace. Photo Credit: Google Website
NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation have confirmed the October 27, 2014 launch date for Orbital's Orb-3 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch date was dependent on whether a tracking station on Bermuda withstood Hurricane Gonzalo. Inspectors have determined it will be ready for the launch next week.
This is Orbital's third operational cargo mission to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Orbital launches its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. The Bermuda tracking station is required for such launches.
Launch is scheduled for 6:45 pm Eastern Daylight Time on October 27.
Orbital announced that it has named this Cygnus spacecraft after the late Deke Slayton. Slayton was one of first seven astronauts selected for America's human spaceflight program in 1959 -- the Mercury 7 -- but an irregular heartbeat kept him grounded until he was cleared to fly the very last Apollo mission -- the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. After leaving NASA, he became one of the early commercial space launch entrepreneurs, heading a company named Space Services that developed the Conestoga 1 rocket, which in 1982 because the first privately funded rocket to reach space.
The chairmen of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) committee and its Space Subcommittee sent a letter to NASA yesterday (October 21) asking the agency to respond to previous inquiries from the committee regarding the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts and other matters to which NASA has not yet replied.
In yesterday's letter, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve Palazzo (R-MS) repeated their requests for updated information on NASA's plans for launching SLS and Orion. Their original letter on August 27 stemmed from NASA's announcement that day that it was committing to a November 2018 launch readiness date for SLS, almost a year longer than expected. That letter requested a response by September 10, 2014, but the committee said it still has not received answers to its questions.
As for CCtCAP, yesterday's letter notes that Space Subcommittee staff "reached out" to NASA the day the CCtCAP decision was announced, requesting a briefing and the source selection statement. The letter explains that the committee understood it could not have such a briefing until after NASA briefed the offerors, but those briefings are now completed. Although Sierra Nevada Corporation is protesting the awards to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the committee's letter notes that the statute governing the bid protest process does not authorize "the withholding of any document or information from Congress or an executive agency." In addition, the committee states that NASA is proceeding with the contracts despite the protest and details of the source selection document were released to the press. "We assume the Administration will submit a budget proposal to Congress in the next few months that will include funding for the CCtCAP program," the letter continues, and Congress's "ability to evaluate this budget request may be challenged by NASA's uncooperative position."
The letter also presses NASA to provide previously requested data on NASA's treatment of potential termination liability obligations across the agency.
This letter asks for a NASA response by October 28, 2014.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a verbal decision today declining to overrule NASA on its decision to allow SpaceX and Boeing to proceed in executing the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is suing the government over NASA's October 9 decision to rescind a previously issued stop-work order while SNC's protest of the contract awards is under consideration by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In a terse statement, Judge Marilyn Blank Horn said:
"On October 21, 2014, the court held a hearing in the above captioned protest. Given the urgency to resolve the override issue, the court provided the parties with a verbal decision declining to overrule the override."
"Override" refers to NASA overriding a provision of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) under which work on a contract ordinarily would cease while a protest of the contract award is pending. NASA initially issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX in compliance with CICA after SNC filed its protest with GAO. On October 9, however, it rescinded that order, overriding the CICA requirement, on the basis that its statutory authority allowed it to avoid serious adverse consequences.
SNC's suit before this court is that NASA did not demonstrate those serious adverse consequences in overriding the CICA requirements and the override was "illegal and void."
GAO has until January 5, 2015 to rule on SNC's underlying protest of the contract awards. At the time it filed the protest, SNC said it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process."
Boeing, SpaceX and SNC are all being funded under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program. On September 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue on to the next phase, CCtCAP, under which each company is expected to complete work on new commercial crew space transportation systems to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the end of 2017. Both designs are capsules: Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon V2. SNC's design is a winged vehicle, Dream Chaser, that resembles a small space shuttle.
Ann Zulkosky, the top Senate Democratic staffer dealing with NASA issues on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, is leaving to join Lockheed Martin.
Zulkosky is a member of the Democratic professional staff of the committee, which is chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is retiring at the end of this Congress and committee staff changes are common when the chairperson retires. Zulkosky has been handling a variety of science issues, but is best known in space policy circles for her work on NASA issues with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs the committee's Science and Space Subcommittee.
Zulkosky and her Republican staff counterpart, Jeff Bingham, working with Nelson and the committee's top Republican at the time, Senator Kay Bailey Hutichison (R-TX), are largely credited with writing the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, a hard fought compromise between the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats and Republicans. Bingham retired last year.
The 2010 law included funding recommendations only through FY2013, which has expired, but the policy provisions remain in force. Key policy provisions allowed the Obama Administration to proceed with the commercial crew program to develop crew transportation systems to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), while insisting that NASA also develop a new spacecraft (Orion) and rocket (the Space Launch System) to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
The House passed a new NASA authorization bill in June. Senate action is expected next, but that may be more difficult to achieve with Zulkosky's departure.
In an email this evening, Zulkosky confirmed that she is headed to Lockheed Martin as Director of NASA Programs, succeeding Mike Hawes. Hawes was recently tapped to replace Cleon Lacefield as the company's vice president and program manager for Orion.
Here is our list of space policy-related events in the coming week, October 20-24, 2014, and any insights we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has scheduled a second hearing on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit against the government vis a vis the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts for Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET (it's not listed on our calendar because we don't list court dates for lawsuits since they are rarely open to the public). The first hearing was on Friday, where the court allowed SpaceX and Boeing to intervene in the case. The court is also considering SNC's request to keep most of the filings under seal because some of the material may be proprietary and some is protected under SNC's protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). SNC is protesting NASA's award of the CCtCAP contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Ordinarily, under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), work would stop under those contracts until GAO rules on SNC's protest (it has until January 5, 2015). NASA did issue a stop-work order, but later rescinded it based on its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences. SNC is challenging the legality of that rescission. Check back with SpacePolicyOnline.com to learn about what happens on Tuesday.
There are many other interesting events on tap during the week as well. On Monday, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (which administers the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), the Mexican Space Agency and another Mexican organization, CICESE, will hold a symposium on Making Space Technology Accessible and Affordable. The opening ceremony and a press conference -- including the head of the Mexican Space Agency, Javier Mendieta -- will be webcast.
The third of three International Space Station (ISS) spacewalks in as many weeks is scheduled for Wednesday. This time it is two Russians, Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev, who will step outside. NASA TV will cover it beginning at 9:00 am ET.
Two very interesting luncheons are being held in the Washington, DC area on Thursday, unfortunately at exactly the same time. The Washington Space Business Roundtable is hosting a panel of experts on the future of satellite communications in support of DOD at the University Club is downtown DC, while the National Capital Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics is hearing from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chris Scolese across the river in Arlington, VA. Not to mention that there's an all-day symposium in DC that day on space and satellite regulatory issues. Busy day!
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, October 20
Wednesday, October 22
Wednesday-Sunday, October 22-26
Thursday, October 23
At today's hearing before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Boeing and SpaceX were granted their requests to intervene in Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit to force NASA to reinstate a stop-work order on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts.
SNC filed suit on Wednesday asking the court to declare "illegal and void" NASA's October 9 decision to override provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) so that work could proceed under the CCtCAP contracts despite SNC's protest of the award. Today was the first hearing in the case.
Boeing, SpaceX and SNC are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase. On September 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue into the next phase, CCtCAP. Sierra Nevada filed a protest against that decision with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 26. NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX on the CCtCAP contracts because of the protest, but rescinded it on October 9 arguing that it was acting under its statutory authority to avoid serious adverse consequences.
That prompted SNC to file this lawsuit against the U.S. Government on the basis that NASA had not demonstrated that it could not wait until GAO issued its ruling on SNC's protest. GAO has until January 5, 2015 to make its determination.
Today, Judge Marian Blank Horn granted motions from Boeing and SpaceX to "intervene" in the case and ordered that they file their submissions by Monday, October 20, at noon. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 21, at 2:30 pm ET.
The commercial crew program is essentially a public-private partnership where the government and the private sector are sharing the costs of developing new crew space transportation systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA serving as a market for the resulting services. CCtCAP is the final phase of the development program, leading, NASA hopes, to operational systems by the end of 2017. Until commercial crew systems are operational, NASA must rely on Russia to take crews to and from ISS because the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims yesterday asking the court essentially to overturn NASA's decision to allow work to proceed under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. SNC is protesting NASA's award of those contracts to Boeing and SpaceX and ordinarily work would stop until the protest was resolved. NASA initially told the companies to stop work, but rescinded that order about a week later, triggering SNC's lawsuit. A hearing on SNC's suit is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday, October 17).
Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Those three companies, at least, bid for the CCtCAP phase which will lead to operational commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX for CCtCAP on September 16.
On September 26, SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) because it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process." GAO has 100 days (until January 5, 2015) to rule on the protest.
NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX because of the protest. The stop-work order affects only the CCtCAP contracts, not work under the CCiCAP agreements.
However, on October 9, NASA rescinded the stop-work order, overriding provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) on the basis that it was acting within statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In filing its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, SNC asserts that NASA's override decision was "illegal and void" because the government failed to establish that "performance of the contract is in the best interest of the United States" or "urgent and compelling circumstance that significantly affect the interests of the United States will not permit waiting" for the GAO decision. SNC calls NASA's override decision "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and ... contrary to law, all in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act...."
SNC asks the court to declare NASA's override "illegal and void" or alternatively to "preliminarily enjoin the Defendant from further implementing" the override -- in other words, to reinstate the stop-work order -- until the court issues a final judgment on the matter.
Because SNC's filing to the court relies on material subject to a GAO protective order (because of its bid protest to GAO) and on other material that may contain proprietary information, SNC further requests the court to keep the primary documents it filed with the court (memorandum and appendix) under seal. For now, at least, only a few of SNC's documents are available to the public through the court's PACER electronic system: Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal and Motion for a Protective Order, Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, and Plaintiff's Applications for a Temporary Restraining Order to Prevent Unlawful Override of CICA Stay.
The court has scheduled a hearing on the case, Sierra Nevada Corporation v United States, before Judge Marian Blank Horn for 10:00 am ET tomorrow, October 17.
NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation decided today to delay the launch of Orbital's third operational cargo mission (Orb-3) to the International Space Station (ISS) until at least October 27 because Hurricane Gonzalo is bearing down on Bermuda. One of the tracking sites used for Orbital's launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is located in Bermuda.
The announcement on Orbital's website stresses that the October 27 date is tentative since the impact of the storm on Bermuda's infrastructure will not be known until the storm passes.
As of 5:00 pm ET today (October 15), Gonzalo is a Category Three hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour and higher gusts. Bermuda is expected to feel the brunt of it on Friday with a "dangerous storm surge" accompanied by "large and destructive waves" according to the National Hurricane Center.
The mobile tracking station is located on Cooper's Island, Bermuda.
NASA/Wallops Bermuda Tracking Site. Photo Credit: NASA/Wallops.
Orbital launches its commercial cargo missions to the ISS from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. NASA and Bermuda signed an agreement in March 2012 to place a tracking site there to support such launches. NASA/Wallops Deputy Range Director Steven Kremer said at the time that "[o]wning, deploying and controlling our own assets means control over scheduling ... and higher confidence in promising range availability to our customers...." The tracking station provides telemetry, radar and command and control services.
Originally scheduled for October 14, the Orb-3 launch was delayed to October 20 and then October 24 primarily because of the busy schedule of activities aboard the ISS, including three spacewalks this month (the second was completed today) and the arrival and departure of other cargo spacecraft including Russia's Progress and SpaceX's Dragon.
If the launch takes place on October 27, the launch time is 6:44 pm ET and Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the ISS on November 2, Orbital said today.