New SLS Worry: Leaks

NASA’s Ground Transportation team guides NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s completed core stage from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the agency’s Pegasus barge on Jan. 8. (Credits: NASA/Tyler Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The latest Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of NASA’s massive Space Launch System (SLS) has a depressingly familiar ring to it. Tell me if you’ve heard this before:

  • schedule continues to slip
  • costs continue to rise
  • core stage could develop fuel leaks.

Yeah, that does sound famil– Wait…WHAT?!?

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House Science Committee Members Request GAO Review of ISS National Lab

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) along with Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX) sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller Gene Dodaro requesting a broad examination of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space’s (CASIS) performance, management, and governance structure. CASIS is a non-profit organization that currently manages the International Space Station National Laboratory (ISSNL).

In the letter, the Committee leaders express longstanding concerns regarding CASIS’s use of the its ISSNL resource allocation, its internal governance structures, and its transparency and accountability to NASA and Congress, including those identified in a recently released Independent Review Team report.  

“The unique environment offered by the ISSNL is an invaluable resource to facilitate research and development,” said the Committee Chairs and Ranking Members in the letter. “Congress has sought to encourage commercial and cross-agency partnerships as one path to the full utilization of this resource, but CASIS’s organizational struggles appear to have undermined progress. As Congress addresses broader questions surrounding the ISS, its ongoing mission, and the future of NASA-supported research and development in low Earth orbit, it is imperative to ensure that an effective and accountable entity is in place to manage the full range of activities conducted through the ISSNL.”

A copy of the full letter can be found here.

GAO: Accelerating Commercial Crew Schedule Poses Risks

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to move up the start of operational crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by Boeing and SpaceX could pose serious safety risks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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GAO: More Webb Space Telescope Delays Look Likely

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has taken yet another look at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, and the results aren’t real good.

“As of October 2019, the project had used about 76 percent of its available schedule reserve and no longer plans to launch in November 2020,” the report stated. “The project is now managing to a March 2021 launch date but estimates only a 12 percent likelihood that this date will be achieved. NASA plans to reassess the launch date in the spring of 2020. “

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GAO: DOD Needs Plan to Implement Wide-band Satellite Communications Strategy

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Department of Defense (DOD) needs to create a comprehensive plan for developing a hybrid military-commercial system that will handle wide-band communications, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The 2017 defense authorization act required that GAO review DOD’s ongoing assessment of alternatives (AOA) for future wide-band services. GAO found the department conducted a comprehensive assessment in line with best practices that included input from all stakeholders.

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GAO: NASA Lunar Plans Lack Cost Estimate, Risk Integration Challenges

Artist’s conception of astronaut in an advanced spacesuit working on the moon. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In March, Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump Administration would use “any means necessary” to accomplish the goal of landing American astronauts on the moon by 2024.

Those means apparently did not include having NASA produce a cost estimate for the first landing mission known as Artemis III. And that has the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concerned.

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NASA Struggles with Shortage of Skilled Workers

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is already hampered by a shortfall of skilled workers, a problem that will be exacerbated as the space agency gears up to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in the Artemis program.

That is the conclusion of a new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The review identified attracting and retaining a highly-skilled workforce as one of the space agency’s seven biggest management and performance challenges. [Full Report]

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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

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GAO: USAF’s Space Command and Control Program Needs Better Oversight

The U.S. Air Force’s effort to modernize and consolidate its space command and control systems into a single comprehensive platform has made progress, but it will need comprehensive planning and oversight to succeed, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The Space C2 program is facing a number of challenges and unknowns, from management issues to technical complexity,” the report to Congressional committees stated. “Additionally, DOD officials have not yet determined what level of detail is appropriate for acquisition planning documentation for Agile software programs. They are also not certain about the best way to provide oversight of these programs but are considering using assessments by external experts….

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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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Deep Space Systems Files Protest Over NASA CLPs Task Order

The Moon as seen from the International Space Station (Credit: ESA/NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Deep Space Systems has filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over NASA’s decision to award Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts to three rival companies.

On May 31, NASA awarded contracts worth $253.5 million to Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond to carry up to 23 payloads to the moon on three commercial missions scheduled for launch between September 2020 and July 2021.

Deep Space Systems, which is based in Littleton, Colo., filed a bid protest with GAO on June 24. The government watchdog is scheduled to render a decision on the protest on Oct. 2.

The GAO website does not provide any details on the reason for the protest. Deep Space Systems has not responded to requests for comment.

NASA terminated its $97 million contract with OrbitBeyond on July 28 after the company informed the space agency that internal corporate challenges would prevent it from delivering its payloads to the lunar surface in a timely manner. The company had targeted a landing in September 2020.

NASA’s CLPS program pays companies to deliver payloads to the moon rather than having the space agency commission and build its own landers and orbiters. Nine companies are qualified to bid on CLPS task orders.

Boeing, SpaceX Continue to Work Through Technical Challenges on Commercial Crew

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boeing and SpaceX are continuing to work through a number of technical challenges on their commercial crew spacecraft as NASA struggles to process data needed to certify the vehicles, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

There is sufficient schedule uncertainty, in fact, that GAO recommended the space agency continue planning for additional delays in providing crew transport to the International Space Station (ISS).

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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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SpaceX Drops Protest Over Contract for Lucy Mission

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has dropped it protest of NASA’s decision to award a launch contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Lucy asteroid mission.

SpaceX did not disclose the reason it withdrew the protest, and a company spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by SpaceNews about the withdrawal. According to GAO’s website, SpaceX filed a separate protest over the same contract March 25, which was also withdrawn April 4. The company also declined to comment on the difference between the two protests.

When it filed the protest in February, SpaceX argued it could perform the same mission for a “dramatically lower” price than the $148.3 million value of the ULA contract. “We believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” a company spokesperson said then. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA said that it was selected in part because it offered schedule assurance for the mission. Lucy must launch during a 20-day window in October 2021 in order to carry out its complex trajectory of flybys of six Trojan asteroids and one in the main asteroid belt. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.











GAO Removes Weather Satellite Program From High-Risk List

This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status. (Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have made “sufficient progress” in mitigating potential gaps in weather data that would have resulted “in less accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events—such as hurricanes and floods.”

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