NASA IG: Decide Future of the International Space Station Soon

The International Space Station as it appears in 2018. Zarya is visible at the center of the complex, identifiable by its partially retracted solar arrays. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The sooner NASA can decide the future of the International Space Station (ISS), the easier it will be for the space agency to pursue its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by 2020, according to a new report from its Office of Inspector General (OIG).

“Whether NASA decides to extend, increase commercialization of, or retire the ISS, the timing of each of these decisions has a cascading effect on the funding available to support space flight operations in low Earth orbit, ambitions for establishing a permanent presence on the Moon, and ultimately sending humans to Mars,” the report stated.

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NASA IG Audit Finds Management and Schedule Issues with Europa Missions

The Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist’s rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite early-stage robust funding, NASA is facing serious management and schedule challenges in its ambitious Europa Clipper program that will send an orbiter and lander to Jupiter’s ice covered moon beginning in 2023.

“Specifically, NASA’s aggressive development schedule, a stringent conflict of interest process during instrument selection, and an insufficient evaluation of cost and schedule estimates has increased project integration challenges and led the Agency to accept instrument cost proposals subsequently found to be far too optimistic,” the audit found.

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Inspector General: NASA Goddard Lags in Tech Transfer

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is lagging behind three other agency centers when it comes to transferring technology to the private sector, according to a new audit by the Office of Inspector General. [Full Report]

“Goddard…is experiencing poor technology transfer performance outcomes when compared to the other three NASA Centers we reviewed, to include a lower percentage of licenses as well as delays in processing of [New Technology Reports] and patent applications,” the audit said.

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IG: NASA Needs to Better Document Cost Savings on Services Contracts

NASA needs better methods to track its efforts to minimize costs on the more than $16 billion worth of engineering and technical services the space agency purchases annually, according to a new audit by the Inspector General (IG).

[Full Report — PDF]

“Although NASA has a variety of mechanisms at the Headquarters and Center levels to share lessons learned, many of these are informal, dependent upon personal relationships between Centers, and not focused on sharing information on efficiencies,” the audit said.

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NASA Inspector General Skeptical of Agency Plan for Commercializing Space Station

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts a session with the Capillary Flow Experiment. (Credit: NASA)

The NASA Inspector General is skeptical about the space agency’s plan to transition to commercial operations in Earth orbit after the end of direct federal support for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024, according to a new report.

“Transitioning the ISS to private operation under the timetable currently envisioned presents significant challenges in stimulating private sector interest to take on an extremely costly and complex enterprise,” the audit found. “Based on our audit work, we question the viability of NASA’s current plans, particularly with regard to the feasibility of fostering increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit on the timetable proposed…

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NASA OIG Audit Hits Agency’s IT Governance

A new audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General reports the agency’s efforts to improve management of its information technology (IT) have failed to show sufficient progress.

“In the 4 years since issuance of our IT governance report and the 3 years since completion of its own internal review, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has made insufficient progress to improve NASA’s IT governance, casting doubt on the office’s ability to effectively oversee the Agency’s IT assets,” the report states. “Specifically, the NASA Chief Information Officer (CIO) continues to have limited visibility into IT investments across the Agency and the process NASA developed to correct this shortcoming is flawed.”

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ASAP Report Targets Concerns Over SpaceX Propellant Loading

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

A new NASA reports says that while Boeing and SpaceX are making progress on their commercial crew spacecraft, but a number of key technical challenges remain and there is “a very real possibility” of “a substantial slip in the schedule” in the already delayed programs.

In its 2016 Annual Report, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) said it was concerned about SpaceX’s “load and go” approach of placing the load aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft prior to loading the Falcon 9 booster with propellants, particularly in the wake of the loss of a booster in September while it was being fueled.

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Musk: SpaceX Has Theory on Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly; Sabotage Unlikely

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Remarks attributed to Elon Musk in which he discussed a possible cause of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch pad firexplanomaly leaked out to the public last week after his his presentation before officials at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

“We are close to figuring it out. It might have been formation of solid oxygen in the carbon over-wrap of one of the bottles in the upper stage tanks. If it was liquid it would have been squeezed out but under pressure it could have ignited with the carbon. This is the leading theory right now, but it is subject to confirmation,” Musk is reported to have said.

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Roundup of SpaceX Accident and Commercial Crew News

Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)
Members of the 45th Space Wing’s Incident Management Team responded to an explosion Sept. 1, 2016, on Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Credit: 45th Space Wing)

SpaceX Falcon 9 Failures

SpaceX suffered two failures of its Falcon 9 booster within 14 months. Both failures apparently occurred in the second stage of the rocket.

SpaceX has had problems with helium since at least 2014 when two flights were scrubbed due to leaks. In the 2015 accident, a helium bottle broke free inside the liquid oxygen tank leading to over pressurization. SpaceX has preliminarily identified a large breach in the second stage cryogenic helium system as the cause of the failure earlier this month.

Below are some key stories about the accidents and the investigations into them.

SpaceXplosion Update: Preliminary Review Suggests “Large Breach in Cryogenic Helium System” — Sept. 23, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/23/spacexplosion-update-preliminary-review-suggests-large-breach-cryogenic-helium-system/

SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus — Sept. 12, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

A Video Analysis of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly — Sept. 19, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/19/video-analysis-spacex-falcon-9-firexplanomaly/

Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/video-spacex-falcon-9-explosion/

Falcon 9 Pad Failure Throws SpaceX Schedule into Doubt — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/falcon-9-pad-failure-throws-spacex-schedule-doubt/

NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident — Sept 16, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/16/nasa-hasnt-released-report-spacexs-accident/

NASA Investigation into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Explosion Questions Single Strut Theory — June 28, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/06/28/nasa-investigation-spacexs-falcon-explosion-questions-single-strut-theory/

Musk: Failed Strut Suspected in Falcon 9 Failure — July 20, 2015
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2015/07/20/musk-failed-strut-suspected-falcon-9-failure/

SpaceX Postpones AsiaSat6 Launch — Aug. 26, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/08/26/spacex-postpones-asiasat6-launch/

SpaceX Scrubs Falcon 9 Launch — April 14, 2014
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/04/14/spacex-scrubs-falcon-9-launch/

Commercial Crew Updates

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)
SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

On the same day as the Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded on the launch pad, the NASA Inspector General released a report that concluded that neither SpaceX nor Boeing were likely to fly crews to the International Space Station on a commercial basis until the end of 2018.

It’s unclear whether the Falcon 9 failure will further delay SpaceX’s Crew Dragon program. One issue is that SpaceX wants to use super cold densified fuels in the rocket that must be loaded close to the launch time to keep them from warming. That would require putting the crews on board before fuel loading, something that has never been done before.

NASA was not that comfortable with densified fuels or loading the crew first before the failure earlier this month. It remains to be seen whether the space agency will ever allow it now.

Below are three stories looking at SpaceX’s commercial crew challenges.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Challenges: Welds, Cracks & Water Seepage — Sept. 4, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/04/spacex-crew-dragon-challenges-welds-cracks-water-seepage/

SpaceX Commercial Crew Milestone Status — Sept. 3, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/03/spacex-commercial-crew-milestone-status/

NASA OIG Report: Further Delays in Commercial Crew, More Payments to Russians — Sept. 1, 2016
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/09/01/nasa-oig-report-delays-commercial-crews-payments-russians/











SpaceX, NASA Misled Public About First Commercial Resupply Flight

Falcon 9 launches on its first commercial resupply mission.
Falcon 9 launches on its first commercial resupply mission.

As SpaceX prepared to launch its first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in October 2012, there was a rather curious aspect about the mission. While the Dragon spacecraft was advertised as being able to carry 3,310 kg of cargo, the ship was only loaded with 450 kg of cargo — less than 14 percent of maximum capacity.

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NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX’s recent firexplanomaly on the launch pad that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 reminded me that NASA has not yet released an accident report from the company’s previous catastrophic failure in June 2015. That in-flight accident launched a Dragon supply ship bound for the International Space Station into the Atlantic Ocean.

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