GAO Report on SLS/Orion: Making Progress, But….

SLS core stage pathfinder is lifted onto the Stennis B-2 test stand (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office released another depressing review this week of NASA’s Artemis program, specifically looking at the space agency’s progress on the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and the exploration ground systems (EGS) required to support them.

Cristina Chaplain, GAO’s director of Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, summarized the report’s conclusions on Wednesday in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

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GAO Says Artemis 1 Flight Could Slip Amid Rising Costs

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of NASA’s human lunar effort has concluded the Artemis 1 flight could slip to June 2021 as costs continue to rise.

“In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs—the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems—NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely,” the report concluded. “Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021.

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House Appropriations Committee Boosts Budgets for NASA, NOAA


WASHINGTON (House Appropriations Committee PR) — The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies funding bill, which will be considered in subcommittee on Friday, May 17. The bill funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other related agencies.

The text of the bill is here. The subcommittee markup will be webcast live and linked from https://appropriations.house.gov/events/markups.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $22.32 billion, $815 million above the 2019 enacted level. This funding includes:

  • $7.16 billion for NASA Science programs – $255.6 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
  • $123 million for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement, $13 million above fiscal year 2019 and rejecting the Administration’s request to eliminate funding for these programs, which help inspire and train the country’s future STEM workforce.
  • $5.1 billion for Exploration – $79.1 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. This includes funding to continue the development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and related ground systems.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – The legislation contains $5.48 billion for NOAA, which is $54.28 million above the fiscal year 2019 level and more than $1 million above the Administration’s request. Funding will help address important priorities such as climate research, improvements in weather forecasting, the reduction of harmful algal blooms, and fisheries management.

Editor’s Note: The measure does not seem to take into account the supplemental request made earlier this week for NASA.

Working on a freelance project right now, so I don’t have time to go through the bill. For anyone who has time to take a look at the text of the House markup (link above), here are some resources for comparison purposes:











GAO Letter Outlines NASA’s Open Priority Recommendations

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has not implemented nearly one third of the recommendations for improvements that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) made to it four years earlier, the government watchdog agency said.

“In November 2018, we reported that on a government-wide basis, 77 percent of our recommendations made 4 years ago were implemented,” GAO said in an April 12 letter to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“NASA’s recommendation implementation rate was 70 percent. As of February 2019, NASA had 51 open recommendations. Fully implementing these open recommendations could significantly improve NASA’s operations.” GAO added.

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Trump, Pence Demand Space Spectacular During Election Year as SLS Schedule Slides Further

SLS liquid hydrogen tank (Credit: NASA/Tyler Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

If you’ve been puzzling over exactly why NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine suddenly floated the idea of flying the first Orion space capsule to the moon next year without the Space Launch System (SLS), The Washington Post has a couple of answers today:

  • SLS is much further behind schedule than anyone knew; and,
  • 2020 is a presidential election year.

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NASA Receives Significant Funding Increase with $21.5 Billion Budget

The Lunar Gateway (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has received a $21.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which is $736.86 million above FY 2018 and $1.6 billion above the total requested by the Trump Administration.

The funding, which came more than four months into the fiscal year,  was included in an appropriations bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. NASA’s budget has been on an upward trajectory over the last few years. In FY 2018, the space agency received an $1.64 billion increase over the previous year.

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GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

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GAO Finds Concerns About Structural Integrity of SLS Mobile Launcher

Mobile crawler transporter (Credit: NASA)

Updated May 5 at 12:53 p.m. PDT with information about funding for a second Mobile Launcher.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There are “emerging concerns about the structural integrity of the Mobile Launcher’s base” from which NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will lift off, according to a new government assessment.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “loads models have indicated low stress margins in critical locations in the Mobile Launcher base. The program attributed this issue to an error in their model.

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NASA’s Major Project Costs & Schedule Performance Deteriorated in 2018

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Government Accountability Office
May 1, 2018
Full Report

What GAO Found

The cost and schedule performance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) portfolio of major projects has deteriorated, but the extent of cost performance deterioration is unknown. NASA expects cost growth for the Orion crew capsule—one of the largest projects in the portfolio—but does not have a current cost estimate. In addition, the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years of assessing major NASA projects (see figure below).

The deterioration in portfolio performance was the result of 9 of the 17 projects in development experiencing cost or schedule growth.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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NASA KSC Director Looks Ahead to 2018 Milestones

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees at the Florida spaceport about plans for the coming year. (Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently spoke to spaceport employees about plans for 2018. The coming year will be highlighted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners preparing to launch test flights for crewed missions to the International Space Station.

“This is going to be an awesome year for us,” Cabana said speaking to center employees on Jan. 11, in the Lunar Theater of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo Saturn V Center. “The number one priority this year is we’ve got to get commercial crew flying to the International Space Station.”

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Trump Administration’s NASA Policy Slowly Emerges

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week was long on rhetoric and short on details, but a few themes and priorities have already emerged in the Trump Administration’s slowly evolving approach to the nation’s civilian space program.

NASA Will Lead Again

In a speech in which he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump, Pence used some variation of the word “lead” a total of 33 times (“leadership” 18 times, “leader(s)” eight times,  “lead”  six times and “leading” once).
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