A bi-partisan group of 14 Congressmen has sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James raises questions about the certification of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in the wake of the launch failure last month.
The representatives questioned whether it made sense for SpaceX to lead the investigation of its own accident, which resulted in a loss of a Dragon cargo ship headed for the International Space Station. The FAA is providing oversight of the investigation.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Engineers in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently tested the mechanisms that will connect future commercial crew spacecraft with the second International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it’s called, will be taken to the space station on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. The systems and targets for IDA-2 are set to be put through extensive tests with both Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before the adapter is loaded for launch.KSC-315D-0315_0023
“We set IDA-2 up horizontally for the alignment checks with the CST-100 to more closely mirror how the two would connect in space,” said Steve Bigos, project manager for orbital replacement unit processing at Kennedy. “There is a lot of new technology, so it’s very interesting.”
The targets are much more sophisticated than previous docking systems and include lasers and sensors that allow the station and spacecraft to autonomously communicate distance cues and enable alignment and connection. Think of it as a car that can park itself.
Statement by Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO David F. Melcher on the Senate passage of the Transportation Bill with Ex-Im Bank Amendment.
Arlington, Va. — The Aerospace Industries Association is very pleased that the Senate has attached an amendment reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank of the United States to the Transportation bill that passed the Senate today. Ex-Im Bank supports roughly 164,000 American jobs across the United States and is an important tool in enabling U.S. exporters to remain competitive in the global marketplace. The aerospace and defense industry is the single largest net exporter among American manufacturers, but we compete against foreign companies receiving much greater support from their home governments, including direct subsidies. Ex-Im Bank helps offset that foreign advantage.
The vote for the Ex-Im Bank amendment demonstrates the majority support reauthorization enjoys in the Senate; that strong support is mirrored in the House of Representatives. We strongly urge the House to include the Senate Ex-Im language and put an end to the acrimonious and unnecessary debate over reauthorization of an institution that House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize only two years ago. Enough damage has been done to American businesses at the behest of a small but vocal minority in the House.
Earlier this week, Russia’s Prosecutor General revealed the true extent of the theft uncovered thus far: a whopping 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) has been stolen. That’s 4.2 percent of the $3 billion being spent on the new spaceport in Russia’s Far East.
Officials are hoping to complete work on the new facility by the end of November, with the first launched scheduled the following month.
Some good news for NASA came last week when the Russian government formally committed to operating the International Space Station until 2024. The orbiting facility had been previously slated to be decommissioned in 2020.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos is reportedly to have fought hard for the four-year extension despite tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine.
Earlier this year, the Canadian government agreed to continue participating in the program until 2024. The European Space Agency and Japanese government have made similar commitments yet. Japan is widely expected to sign on to the extension.
Russia will put its troubled Proton booster back in operation late next month after a three-0month stand down that followed the launch vehicle’s latest failure in mid-May.
A Proton-M rocket is set to liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Aug. 28 with the Inmarsat-5F3 communications satellite. On May 16, an engine failure on a Proton booster destroyed the MexSat 1 satellite.
Proton has been the most troubled of Russian boosters over the past five years, with six failures, 1 partial failure and 11 spacecraft lost. One spacecraft was able to reach its intended orbit using on-board propulsion after the Proton rocket’s upper stage shut down prematurely.
The stand down has caused a backup in the Proton schedule. The launch vehicle is set to oribt the Express AM8, Garpun, Turksat 4B and Eutelsat 9B communications satellites this year.
In January, a Proton is set to launch ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter to the Red Planet.
GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Another CubeSat mission involving significant contributions from Goddard scientists has won a berth on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2018. The pint-size spacecraft will be one of the first to venture into interplanetary space.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — Our business is to design prototype, cutting-edge aircraft. Safety has always been a critical component of Scaled’s culture and, as the NTSB noted today, our pilots were experienced and well-trained. As part of our constant and continuing efforts to enhance our processes, we have already made changes in the wake of the accident to further enhance safety. We will continue to look for additional ways to do so. We extensively supported the NTSB’s investigation and appreciate all of its work to make the industry safer. Mike Alsbury exemplified the passion that all our employees share. He and his family are always in our thoughts, and they are especially so today.
Mr. Greenberg is a professional photographer who was hired by Virgin Galactic to photograph the flight test of SpaceShipTwo last October while airborne from an Extra 300 chase aircraft. Greenberg’s photos captured pilot Pete Siebold’s descent to the desert floor after he was thrown free after the spaceship broke up. He was using two still cameras and operating a GoPro Hero in video mode during the accident event.
The following sequence is extracted from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) document about the loss of SpaceShipTwo last October. The images show the breakup of the vehicle from a camera on one of the tail booms. The premature unlocking of the feather mechanism resulted in aerodynamic pressures deploying the movable tail booms during powered ascent.
NTSB experts did the annotation on the photos and the narrative that accompanies the images. The sequence spans 3 seconds.
Figure 62 is the last frame exported from the recording that shows the feather in a undeployed and nominal position. A vertical line was drawn at the intersection of the right boom’s leading edge and the contour of the upper fuselage structure to illustrate the feather’s relative position. In every frame prior to this, the feather position is nominal. By figure 62 and forward, the exported images show positive feather movement indicated by the incongruity between the vertical line and the relative position of the right boom’s leading edge and the contour of the fuselage.
The National Transportation Safety Board has released a summary of an interview it conducted with Scaled Composites pilot Pete Siebold, who was in command of SpaceShipTwo when it broke up over the Mojave Desert last Oct. 31 during a flight test. Siebold was thrown clear of the ship and managed to parachute to safety, but not before passing out and struggling to activate his oxygen system. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury was not as lucky; he died in the crash.
The following excerpt describes Siebold’s descent and landing from about 10 miles up, the extent of his injuries, and his treatment by medical personnel in the desert and at Antelope Valley Hospital.
Because he considered this a “high-risk” flight he stated that he took extra precautions and took time to think through scenarios that might happen and how he would rapidly respond in an emergency and activate his parachute and oxygen cylinder. About 10-15 minutes prior to release there was a period of low workload when he was able to physically feel for the parachute D-ring rip cord, oxygen activation pud, and the dual-lever seatbelts to improve his “muscle memory” in the event of an emergency. This was not a written procedure, but something he personally did on some flights.
Below is an excerpt from the cockpit recording of the SpaceShipTwo crash on Oct. 31, 2014. The transcript picks up as a controller gives the OK for the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship to release SpaceShipTwo. The spacecraft broke up 38 seconds later when its feather mechanism deployed prematurely during powered ascent. The powered portion of the flight lasted 11 seconds.
Descriptions of what is happening in the SpaceShipTwo cockpit and what pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury are doing are in brackets  and italics.
All times are given in UTC. The accident occurred at 10:07 a.m. PDT.
WASHINGTON, DC (CSF PR) — Today the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a public hearing to adjudicate the probable cause of last year’s SpaceShipTwo test flight accident, which resulted in an in-flight breakup. NTSB’s investigators and analysts presented their findings, conclusions, and recommendations in a draft report to the NTSB Board members. Throughout the discussion, NTSB staff and Board members praised the industry’s strong commitment to transparency and cooperation during the investigation, which helped lead to a more timely and complete resolution of the accident investigation.