NASA IG Looks at Commercial Crew Challenges

The NASA Inspector General’s Office issued a report today titled, “NASA’s Challenges Certifying and Acquiring Commercial Crew Transportation Services,” looking at what obstacles lie ahead as NASA pursues its CCDev program. The challenges include:

  • modifying NASA’s existing safety and human-rating requirements for commercially developed systems
  • selecting an acquisition strategy for commercial crew transportation services
  • establishing the appropriate insight/oversight model for commercial partner vehicle development.
  • relying on an emerging industry and uncertain market conditions to achieve cost savings
  • managing the relationship among commercial partners, the FAA, and NASA.

I’ve reproduced the audit’s results and management action sections below. You can download the full report here.

Dextre to Get Work Out With Robotic Refueling Mission

This artistic representation shows Dextre (right) performing a robotic refueling task on RRM (center) task box, mounted to ELC4. (Image: NASA)


Satellites are designed to withstand a variety of challenges to ensure that the sensitive electronics on board can survive the effects of launch and perform for years in the harsh conditions of space. One of the major hurdles engineering teams face when designing a satellite is how much fuel it can carry to operate throughout its lifetime. Many satellites are left to die and then become space debris after they run out of fuel. But what if we were able to refuel them?


Roscosmos-ESA to Cooperate on Human Launchers

ROSCOSMOS PR — On June 30, Roscosmos Head V. Popovkin and ESA DG J.J. Dordain met at ESA-ESTEC, the Netherlands, to discuss space cooperation issues.

The parties have signed the protocol which defines establishment of two bilateral working groups. The first one will deal with space science. It will investigate feasibility of common missions to Jupiter moon Europe, asteroids, LEO objects, exploration of the other galaxies, etc.

The other working group is to submit proposals on bilateral cooperation in development of space launchers for human missions. For both branches, the agencies will involve industry. Enhancement of cooperation under human spaceflight programs imply involvement in the multilateral working group which includes Roscosmos, ESA, NASA, ASI, DLR, France.

“The protocol confirms intention of Roscosmos and ESA to improve cooperation and represents the evidence of transition to real activities under space initiatives,” Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin stated.

Mojave Test Pilot School Owners Plead Guilty to Tax Evasion

Mojave’s small aerospace community has been rocked by a scandal involving two of its prominent members. The Bakersfield Californian reports:

A Tehachapi couple who owns a flight school in Mojave pleaded guilty Monday to filing a false tax return related to more than $1 million hidden in foreign bank accounts.

Sean Roberts and Nadia Roberts pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii of the Eastern District of California after they were caught maintaining numerous offshore bank accounts they failed to pay taxes on, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court Wednesday.

The Robertses own and operate the National Test Pilot School and Flight Research Inc. in Mojave. National Test Pilot School is a non-profit educational institute that trains test pilots from domestic and foreign aerospace industries and governments. Flight Research Inc. owns and maintains most of the aircraft used by the school.


A Busy Summer Looms for Masten

The Xaero vehicle during assembly November 2010. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

A couple of weeks back, I took an excursion down to Mojave to see what’s happening in that hotbed of rocket innovation. I had the pleasure of meeting with Masten Space Systems’ Nathan O’Konek, who filled me in on the latest developments with the company and gave me a tour of one of its test sites.


CCDev 2 Partners Reach Early Milestones

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — NASA’s industry partners have met all their initial milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities to reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

NASA posted its first status report on the agency’s Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) program to its website. The report highlights the progress and accomplishments for the agency’s commercial spaceflight development efforts. Designed to be a bi-monthly report, it is targeted toward the interested layperson and other non-technical stakeholders in order to keep them informed of our achievements. (more…)

Moon Express Founder Named to Singularity University Board

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., June 28, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Singularity University’s founders, Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Peter H. Diamandis are pleased to announce Naveen Jain, Founder/CEO of Intelius and Founder/Chairman of Moon Express, to their Board of Trustees. He was selected for his firm belief that there are no global problems that cannot be solved through creative thinking and disruptive technology.

“Naveen’s entrepreneurial abilities combined with his innovative thinking made him the perfect choice for this unique University,” Peter Diamandis stated. “I am particularly proud to have Naveen Jain join our Board of Trustees. He is an extraordinary entrepreneur who is passionate about using exponential technologies to solve the world’s grand challenges.”


Aurora Flight Systems Gets DARPA F6 Satellite Contract

The System F6 space architecture replaces the traditional monolithic spacecraft with a wireless "virtual spacecraft" operating as a cluster of modules.

AURORA PR Cambridge, MA, June 28, 2011 – Aurora Flight Sciences announced its selection by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the System F6 fractionated spacecraft program. Over the next thirty months, Aurora will develop and verify algorithms, software, protocols, interfaces and reference implementations that can be deployed in future spacecraft. Aurora’s team includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center, and the University of Maryland.


NanoRacks Signs Deal With Romanian Company to Launch Experiments to ISS

NanoRacks has signed a deal with a Romanian company, Nano Space Labs, to fly scientific and educational experiments from that nation aboard the International Space Station, according to press reports.

“This is a unique, incredible opportunity for students, teachers and private research entities in Romania to test and develop projects in an exclusive environment, available until now only very little research,” said Dumitru Prunariu, who helped to set up Nano Space Labs. Prunariu became Romania’s first — and thus far, only — cosmonaut in 1981.

“We want to prove that, like the Internet, can become a market space where a child of 17 can come up with great ideas,” NanoRacks Managing Director Jeffrey Manber said.

NanoRacks, Astrium to Send Centrifuge to ISS

ASTRIUM/NANORACKS PR — Friedrichshafen, Germany, 27.6.2011 – Astrium and Nanoracks plan to outfit a platform for microgravity investigations with a centrifuge for gravitational research. The proposed centrifuge system, based on a standard experiment container system, was developed by Astrium for ESA more than 25 years ago and has been used for more than 120 experiments for various topics.

The joint facility shall allow a continuation of this research and for the first time allow commercial users access to an in orbit centrifuge for 1-g reference and threshold studies. Experiments from various research topics, mainly in biology and life science can hereby make use of a large inventory of pre-flown designs from previous space missions to shorten the time from a new idea to the execution in orbit to less than 1 year.


U.S. Space Names Boeing, NASA Vet to Board of Directors

DULLES, Va., June 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — U.S. Space LLC, a U.S.-owned provider of dedicated, commercial space solutions to serve the nation’s interests, today announced that it has named Randy Brinkley as a member of its Board of Directors.

Mr. Brinkley was President of Boeing Satellite Systems Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial communication satellites, from 2001 to 2003, and before that was Senior Vice President of Programs for Hughes Space and Communications Company. Mr. Brinkley was also Chief Executive Officer of Rocketplane Kistler Inc., a commercial space transportation company from 2004 to 2007.