NOAA Issues RFP for Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program

NOAA has issued a request for proposals for the second phase of its commercial weather data pilot program.

The program’s goal is to determine whether GPS radio occultation data from commercial satellites can be used to improve weather forecasting. Radio occultation involves the change in a radio signal as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for the measurement of physical properties there.

The firm-fixed price contracts for the second phase will run from  Aug. 27, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019. The data collection and delivery period will run from Oct. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Companies are required to provide at least two periods of at least three consecutive months of radio occultation data during the collection period. A minimum of 500 atmospheric soundings per day are required. Data must be delivered to NOAA at least once per week.

NASA issued contracts to GeoOptics and Spire for the first phase of the pilot program in September 2016. Space News reports the program did not go very smoothly, but that NOAA officials had learned a number of key lessons from it that are being included in the second phase.

GeoOptics’ contract was terminated when the company was unable to provide data because of delays in the launch of its first satellites.

While Spire did provide data, NOAA officials said later that the quality of the data fell short of expectations. “We have gone through one contract already with the radio occultation community, and we found that the data aren’t accurate enough or comprehensive enough yet to meet our observing requirements,” Stephen Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said in January. Spire said that the data from its constellation of cubesats has improved significantly since the end of that initial round of the pilot program in April 2017.

NOAA officials have said for several months that they are working on a report analyzing the results of that first round of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. However, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said May 7 that the report is still “nearing competition” within the agency and will be released publicly once it is completed.

Proposals for phase two are due on May 25.

NASA Releases Solicitation for LEO Commercialization Studies

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins removes samples from the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Blood, saliva and urine samples will be stored in MELFI until they can be transported back to Earth for analysis. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has released a research announcement requesting proposals to study the future of human spaceflight commercialization in low-Earth orbit.

The research announcement solicits industry concepts detailing business plans and viability for habitable platforms, whether using the International Space Station or a separate free-flying structure, that would enable a space economy in low-Earth orbit in which NASA is one of many customers.

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Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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Payload for 2022 SLS Launch Still Up in the Air

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has set mid-2022 for the second flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), but it’s not yet known what the massive booster will actually launch.

“Determination as to whether this launch will be SLS/Orion crewed mission (EM-2) or the SLS/Europa Clipper mission will be made based on risk and readiness of the Europa Clipper project,” according to a decision memo signed on Friday by William C. Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Parabolic Arc obtained a copy of the memo.

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NASA’s New Planet Hunter Snaps Initial Test Image, Swings by Moon Toward Final Orbit

This test image from one of the four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) captures a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our galaxy. TESS is expected to cover more than 400 times the amount of sky shown in this image when using all four of its cameras during science operations. (Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS)

GREEBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s next planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is one step closer to searching for new worlds after successfully completing a lunar flyby on May 17. The spacecraft passed about 5,000 miles from the Moon, which provided a gravity assist that helped TESS sail toward its final working orbit.

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Launch Delays Blessing in Disguise for GRACE-FO Mission

GRACE-FO spacecraft (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

A German-American science mission scheduled to launch this week is running nine months behind schedule due to issues with launch vehicles. However, the delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the project, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites are set to launch on Tuesday at 12:47:58 p.m. PDT (3:47:58 p.m. EDT; 1947:58 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch will be webcast at www.nasa.gov and www.spacex.com.

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ULA Machinists Approve New Contract, End Strike

CENTENNIAL, Colo., May 19, 2018 (ULA PR) – Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have accepted the company’s new four-year contract offer and will return to work after being on strike since May 7.

The new contract covers 600 bargaining unit employees from District Lodges #75 and #166, which includes Locals #44, #610 and #2786 performing work on the Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV and Vulcan Centaur product lines at both East and West Coast ULA launch sites and Decatur, Alabama, manufacturing facility. The contract becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. on May 7.

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GAO: Launch Vehicle Problems Caused Delay in NASA Science Satellite

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

Problems with its launch vehicle and range schedule conflicts have caused a year-long in the launch of a new NASA spacecraft that will study the Earth’s ionosphere, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The June 2017 launch date for the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite was delayed after two of the three stages of the Pegasus XL’s launch vehicle were involved in a transport accident, the GAO found. The stages were returned to Orbital ATK’s facility for inspection and testing, but no damage was found.

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Three Launches Scheduled Over Two Days Next Week

ISS with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft docked to it. (Credit: NASA)

There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.

China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.

Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.

Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.

The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.

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Small Packages to Test Big Space Technology Advances

The RainCube 6U CubeSat with fully-deployed antenna. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — This weekend, when the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station lifts off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, it will be carrying among its supplies and experiments three cereal box-sized satellites that will be used to test and demonstrate the next generation of Earth-observing technology.

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GAO_ ICESat-2 Mission Plagued by Laser Failures on Ground

This image shows the ATLAS instrument inside a Goddard cleanroom where the instrument was assembled. (Credits: NASA/D. McCallum)

Problems with lasers have caused a 17-month delay in the launch of a satellite that will measure changes in polar ice-sheet mass and elevation, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

Two lasers designed for use aboard the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) failed during ground testing due to cracked crystal, the report stated. The lasers have been repaired and will be used for the $1 billion mission. Only one laser is needed for mission success; the other one is a backup in case of the failure of the primary laser.

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Charges Dropped Against ARCA Space CEO

Dumitru Popescu

The Las Cruces Sun News reports on some good news for the head of ARCA Space Corporation:

State prosecutors on Monday dropped 18 criminal charges against the CEO of a space technology company based in Doña Ana County.

ARCA Space Corporation CEO Dumitru Popescu had been facing a series of fraud, securities fraud and embezzlement charges.

But Monday, Benjamin Schrope, special assistant district attorney with the state securities division, filed a brief notice in 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces to dismiss the case.

That happened after a state grand jury heard last week declined to indict Popescu after hearing 14 hours of testimony in two separate sessions.

With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.