Artemis: The Good, the Bad and the Well, Yeah

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and top officials provided an update on the Artemis program on Tuesday, delivering the not unexpected news that the space agency will not meet its deadline of landing a man and the first woman of color at the south pole of the moon in 2024. Instead, the landing will be delayed until at least 2025.

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Bezos Ends Challenge to NASA Lunar Lander Award to SpaceX

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted yesterday that he accepted a court’s dismissal of the company’s challenge to NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract SpaceX. He wished the space agency and rival company full success in landing two astronauts on the moon.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the Human Landing System in April. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics in July. Bezos’ company subsequently appealed in court.

Blue Origin Lawsuit Over Human Landing System Dismissed

Blue Moon lunar lander (Credit: Blue Origin)

UPI reports that Federal Claims Court judge Richard Hertling has dismissed Blue Origin’s lawsuit seeking to overturn NASA’s award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to develop a lander to return astronauts to the lunar surface.

Hertling’s dismissal order cited a sealed opinion that he signed. The order said the court wants the parties to the lawsuit to propose redactions to the opinion by Nov. 18 so the document can be publicly released.

This dismissal was the second defeat in Blue Origin’s effort to overturn the award. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected the company’s appeal in July.

Blue Origin has argued that NASA unfairly evaluated its $5.9 billion bid. The company also claimed the space agency failed to properly evaluate the risks of SpaceX’s plan to adapt its Starship vehicle to serve as the lunar lander.

Blue Origin’s lawsuit had led to a freeze in work by SpaceX and NASA on the human lander. The space agency said the work will now resume in a statement issued on Thursday.

Blue Origin has unsuccessfully campaigned for NASA to award a second contract. Company founder Jeff Bezos said the company would be willing to reduce its cost by $2 billion to make the bid more affordable.

NASA has defended its decision by saying it did not have enough funding to award two contracts and still meet a goal to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. The space agency asked for $3.2 billion to fund the lander last year, but Congress appropriated only $850 million.

NASA has funded SpaceX through development of the lander and a demonstration flight that will land two astronauts on the surface. The space agency will open competition for future missions.

Colorado Congressional Delegation Asks Air Force Secretary to Suspend Move of US Space Command to Alabama

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The eight-member Colorado Congressional delegation has asked U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to suspend all activities related to the move of the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) from Colorado Springs to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. pending the completion of two on-going reviews.

“This move undermines our ability to respond to the threats in space and is disruptive to the current mission. Additionally, significant evidence exists that the former president’s political considerations influenced the final decision to relocate USSPACECOM to Redstone Arsenal. As such, we urge you to formally suspend any actions to relocate the USSPACECOM headquarters until the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have completed their respective investigations into the basing decision and you complete your review,” the delegation said in a Sept. 30 letter to Kendall.

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Trump Claims to have “Single-handedly” Moved U.S. Space Command From Colorado to Alabama

  • Controversial decision announced one week before Trump left office
  • Colorado’s leaders says comments confirm that political factors, not merit, led to decision
  • Two separate government investigations continue into move

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former president Donald Trump claimed on Friday to have “single-handedly” moved the U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama, adding fuel to the political firestorm that erupted over the controversial decision earlier this year.

“Space Force — I sent to Alabama,” Trump said. “I hope you know that. (They) said they were looking for a home and I single-handedly said, ‘Let’s go to Alabama.’ They wanted it. I said, ‘Let’s go to Alabama. I love Alabama,” Trump told the Alabama-based Rick & Bubba radio program.

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NASA Statement on Blue Origin Lawsuit with the United States Court of Federal Claims

NASA public affairs has issued this statement:

“NASA was notified that Blue Origin filed a bid protest with the United States Court of Federal Claims (COFC) following the denial of the protests filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding NASA’s selection for the human landing system (HLS) Option A award. NASA officials are currently reviewing details of the case.

NASA is committed to the Artemis program and the nation’s global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars. As soon as possible, the agency will provide an update on the way forward for returning to the Moon as quickly and as safely as possible under Artemis.”

NASA Statement on GAO Ruling Regarding Human Landing System Protest

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The following is the NASA statement in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision released Friday on the human landing system protest:

“NASA was notified Friday, July 30, that the U.S. Government Accountability Office has denied the protests filed by Blue Origin Federation and Dynetics and has upheld the agency’s source selection of SpaceX to continue the development of its human landing system. The decision enables NASA to award the contract that will ultimately result in the first crewed demonstration landing on the surface of the Moon under NASA’s Artemis plan. Importantly, the GAO’s decision will allow NASA and SpaceX to establish a timeline for the first crewed landing on the Moon in more than 50 years.

“NASA recognizes that sending American astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program and establishing a long-term presence on the Moon is a priority for the Biden Administration and is imperative for maintaining American leadership in space. In the face of challenges during the last year, NASA and its partners have made significant achievements to advance Artemis, including a successful hot fire test for the Space Launch System rocket. An uncrewed flight of Artemis I is on track for this year and a crewed Artemis II mission is planned for 2023. 

“NASA is moving forward with urgency, but astronaut safety is the priority and the agency will not sacrifice the safety of the crew in the steadfast pursuit of the goal to establish a long-term presence on the Moon.

“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way ahead for Artemis, the human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon. We will continue to work with the Biden Administration and Congress to ensure funding for a robust and sustainable approach for the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with U.S. commercial partners.” 

GAO Denies Human Landing System Protests by Blue Origin & Dynetics, Affirms SpaceX Award

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (GAO PR) — On Friday, July 30, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, of South Kent, Washington, and Dynetics, Inc. – A Leidos Company, of Huntsville, Alabama.  The protesters challenged their non-selection for awards and the award of optional contract line item numbers to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, under Option A to Appendix H of Broad Agency Announcement (the announcement) No. NNH19ZCQ001K. Broad Agency Announcements typically provide for the acquisition of basic and applied research for new and creative research or development solutions to scientific and engineering problems. The rules for these procurements are not the same as those for standard competitive federal procurements, as agencies generally enjoy broader discretion in selecting the proposals most suitable to meeting their research and development needs when utilizing broad agency announcement procedures.  The announcement was issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for a demonstration mission for a human landing system for lunar exploration.  

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ULA’s Bruno Denies Igniter Problems with Vulcan Centaur’s BE-4 Engine

In a recent report, the GAO — Government Accountability Office — had reported technical issues with the Blue Origin produced BE-4 engine that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Vulcan Centaur’s first flight will launch Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine on a mission to land on the moon. That flight was scheduled for the end of 2021, but it has slipped into next year due to COVID-19 pandemic related delays with Peregrine.

GAO: Blue Origin BE-4 Engine Technical Issues Threaten ULA’s Vulcan Booster Schedule

BE-4 engine firing (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Technical issues related to related to “the igniter and booster capabilities” with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine could delay the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) new Vulcan Centaur booster scheduled for late this year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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NASA Artemis Program Faces Significant Challenges on Human Lunar Landing in 2024

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The combination of an ambitious schedule, technical challenges and immature technology will make it difficult for NASA to meet its goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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House Science Chairwoman Says GAO Report “Wake-up Call” on Artemis Moon Program

SLS Core stage for Artemis I mission removed from the test stand at Stennis. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, “NASA Lunar Programs: Significant Work Remains, Underscoring Challenges to Achieving Moon Landing in 2024”. The report was the result of an Appropriations request for GAO work on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) lunar programs. NASA has initiated eight programs as part of its goal of returning humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024. The report evaluated NASA’s progress on its lunar programs, including the goal for a human landing in 2024, and its challenges in managing the programs.

“The GAO report released today should serve as a clear wake-up call both to NASA’s leadership and to Members of Congress that NASA’s Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is in serious trouble, and strong corrective actions will be needed if it is to succeed, “said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “It is particularly sobering that the problems highlighted by the GAO team are not primarily budgetary in nature, but reflect organizational weaknesses, reliance on immature technologies, an unrealistic timetable and acquisition approach, and lack of commitment to a rigorous systems engineering & integration capability, among other concerns. I urge Administrator Nelson to carry out an independent review of the entire Artemis initiative as soon as possible so that he can determine what will be needed to put this important national undertaking on an executable path. I want to see NASA get the resources it will need to carry out a successful Moon-Mars initiative, but Administrator Nelson first needs to take all necessary steps to identify and address the problems afflicting Artemis and develop an executable Moon-Mars plan, or we will not just be wasting money—we will be putting our astronauts and our nation’s standing at risk.”

“The Moon to Mars Artemis initiative enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, and that Congressional support comes with the responsibility to ensure that this highly important national effort is carried out based on well-established management and technical processes,” said Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “Today’s GAO report raises questions about NASA’s current approach to managing Artemis. A national endeavor as critical as Artemis requires clear roles and responsibilities, defined management tools, cost and schedule oversight, and an organization focused on mission success. GAO’s report identifies the need for improvement in these areas in order to avoid further delays and costs, and to ensure a successful outcome. I want America to lead an international effort to land humans on the Moon in preparation for Mars and to do so as expeditiously and safely as possible. I look forward to working with Administrator Nelson and the Biden Administration on taking the necessary steps to put Moon to Mars on a path to success.”

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope “High Likely” to be Delayed Past October

The James Webb Space Telescope previously deployed its primary mirror in March 2020. Its folded sunshield is also visible in this image. (Credits: Northrop Grumman)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is “highly likely” to be delayed beyond its planned Oct. 31 launch due to anomalies with the European Ariane 5 booster that will send the giant observatory into deep space, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). [Full Report]

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