It Took Teamwork to Make It to 20 Years

NASA astronauts (left to right) Christina Koch and Jessica Meir harvested Mizuna mustard greens on Thanksgiving day in 2019 inside the ESA (European Space Agency) laboratory module’s VEGGIE facility. (Credits: NASA)

By Danielle Sempsrott
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Building the Team

For 20 consecutive years, NASA has been sending humans to low-Earth orbit to live and work aboard the International Space Station, a unique microgravity laboratory that’s making new discoveries to this day. The technology used for LASIK eye surgery, air purifiers, and robotic arms that assist in medical surgeries are just a few of the things we benefit from here on Earth thanks to science performed on the orbiting laboratory. However, getting the space station into orbit and maintaining it is one of humanity’s biggest challenges – one that required people from all over the world working together to make it possible.

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Multiple Research Investigations From Northrop Grumman CRS-14 Mission Being Performed on Space Station

International Space Station (Credit: NASA/Roscosmos)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., October 26, 2020 (CASIS PR) – When Northrop Grumman launched its Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on October 2, 2020, it was loaded with a multitude of research and technology development investigations to be carried out onboard the orbiting laboratory.

Once Cygnus berthed with the space station three days later and its contents were unloaded by the astronauts onboard, it was time to start performing some of the science that flew on Northrop Grumman’s 14th commercial resupply services (CRS) mission. 

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Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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Boeing-built Space Force Satellite Passes Design Review

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Oct. 7, 2020 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] and the U.S. Space Force successfully completed the first major engineering design review for the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS)-11+ communications satellite. This successful review demonstrates that Boeing is ready to proceed to the final system design phase. Production will begin next year at Boeing’s El Segundo factory, with delivery scheduled for 2024.

WGS-11+ features a modern digital payload that performs at twice the operational capability of its predecessors, increasing the availability of military-grade communications. Leveraging advances in Boeing commercial technologies, it will provide secure communications to connect U.S. and allied forces globally.

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Barry Wilmore to Replace Chris Ferguson as First Boeing Starliner Commander

Barry Wilmore

HOUSTON, Oct. 7, 2020 (Boeing PR) — NASA has chosen veteran astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore to serve as commander of Boeing’s [NYSE: BA] CST-100 Starliner for the Crew Flight Test. He replaces Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who decided not to fly for personal reasons. Wilmore, who has already been training for a Starliner flight as a backup crew member, will join Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke for this first crewed mission of the Starliner spacecraft.

“I’m grateful to Chris for his exceptional leadership and insight into this very complex and most capable vehicle,” Wilmore said. “Having had the chance to train alongside and view this outstanding crew as backup has been instrumental in my preparation to assume this position. Stepping down was a difficult decision for Chris, but with his leadership and assistance to this point, this crew is positioned for success. We will move forward in the same professional and dedicated manner that Chris has forged.”

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Residents Accuse NASA of Reneging on Agreement to Clean up Toxic Mess at California Rocket Test Site

Santa Susana Field Laboratory in California.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is planning to spend tens of billions of dollars returning astronauts to the moon and searching for life on Mars and other worlds, but when it comes to cleaning up a toxic mess it created here on Earth, the space agency says it just can’t afford it.

NASA has finalized a plan to conduct the least extensive and least costly cleanup of contaminated soil and water at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) in southern California. The space agency tested rocket engines there for decades before closing the facility in 2006.

The decision, which NASA announced in the Federal Register on Friday, has angered local residents who say the space agency is reneging on its commitment to do a full cleanup of the heavily polluted site in Ventura County. They fear toxins left in the soil will leach into local groundwater and endanger the health of residents.

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Boeing Wins $298 Million Contract to Develop Next-generation Satellite System for U.S. Space Force

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Oct 1, 2020 (Boeing PR) — Boeing [NYSE: BA] has received one of three development contracts to build a satellite payload prototype and develop a new secure, resilient satellite communications architecture for the U.S. Space Force’s Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) program.

ESS will be a military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) system. It is a critical component of the U.S. Space Force’s strategy.

The initial ESS development contract is valued at $298 million. Contracts for the full ESS system are expected to be awarded in 2025.

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NASA, SpaceX to Launch First Commercial Crew Rotation Mission to International Space Station

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during crew equipment interface training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Glover, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX are beginning a regular cadence of missions with astronauts launching on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 is the first crew rotation mission with four astronauts flying on a commercial spacecraft, and the first including an international partner.

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SpaceX, Boeing & Firefly File FCC Applications for Fall Flights

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has applied for a temporary Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to fly its Starship prototype to an altitude of 20 km (12.4 miles) from its Boca Chica test site in Texas.

The approval would be valid for hops from Oct. 11, 2020 to April 11, 2021. Starship prototypes have flown to an altitude of 150 meters from Boca Chica.

Boeing has filed for a FCC license for its second Starliner orbital flight test. The application covers a six-month period from Nov. 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021.

The uncrewed Starliner test is a repeat of a flight that went awry last December. The spacecraft failed to dock with the space station due to software and communications problems.

Firefly Aerospace has filed for approval for the maiden flight of its Firefly Alpha booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The approval would be valid from Nov. 21, 2020 until May 21, 2021.

Apha is designed to loft 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit and 630 kg into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit at a dedicated mission cost of $15 million.

Boeing Faces Independent Compliance & Ethics Review

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

Reuters reports that Boeing has submitted to an independent review of its compliance and ethics practices under an agreement with NASA and the U.S. Air Force in the wake of scandal relating to its bid to built the space agency’s crewed lunar lander.

The agreement, signed in August, comes as federal prosecutors continue a criminal investigation into whether NASA’s former human exploration chief, Doug Loverro, improperly guided Boeing space executive Jim Chilton during the contract bidding process.

By agreeing to the “Compliance Program Enhancements”, the aerospace heavyweight staves off harsher consequences from NASA and the Air Force – its space division’s top customers – such as being suspended or debarred from bidding on future space contracts.

The agreement calls for Boeing to pay a “third party expert” to assess its ethics and compliance programs and review training procedures for executives who liaise with government officials, citing “concerns related to procurement integrity” during NASA’s Human Landing System competition.

Loverro resigned his NASA post in May. Reuters reports that Boeing has fired a company attorney and a number of mid-level employees. The company has also revised its procurement procedures.

NASA rejected Boeing bid on the human lander for the Artemis program, which aims to land two astronauts at the south pole of the moon in 2024.

NASA awarded study contracts to Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX. The space agency plans to award a multi-billion contract to build the lander.

Boeing’s Starliner Flight Scheduled for No Earlier Than December

Starliner OFT-1 capsule after landing at White Sands Missile Range. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and Boeing continue to make progress toward the company’s second uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft prior to flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Commercial Crew Program currently is targeting no earlier than December 2020 for launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.

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NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps Joins First Operational Boeing Crew Mission to Space Station

Jeanette Epps (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has assigned astronaut Jeanette Epps to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, the first operational crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Epps will join NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada for a six-month expedition planned for a launch in 2021 to the orbiting space laboratory. The flight will follow NASA certification after a successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 and Crew Flight Test with astronauts.

The spaceflight will be the first for Epps, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 from LeMoyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. She completed a master’s degree in science in 1994 and a doctorate in aerospace engineering in 2000, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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WSJ: Former Top NASA Official Under Criminal Investigation in Lunar Lander Procurement Case

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether a former senior NASA official broke federal procurement law by updating a Boeing official on the status of the company’s bid to develop a human lunar lander.

The grand jury investigation involves communication between NASA’s former head of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, and Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned from NASA in May, is alleged to have improperly told Chilton that Boeing was about to be eliminated from a competition for human landing system development contracts because the company’s bid was deficient

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Boeing-USAF X-37B Team to Receive 2019 Collier Trophy

The X-37B spacecraft after landing on May 7, 2017. (Credit: USAF)

WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2020 (NAA PR) – The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) is pleased to announce that the United States Department of the Air Force – Boeing X-37B team has been named as the recipient of the 2019 Robert J. Collier Trophy for “… developing and employing the world’s only reusable, autonomous spaceplane, which logged more than 2,865 days in orbit across five missions, changing access to space and serving as the nation’s workhorse in space experimentation and technology.”

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