Trump Eyes Half Billion Dollar Cut in NASA’s Budget

President Donald Trump would cut $561 million from NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2018 under a spending plan set for release next week, according to a leaked budget document.

NASA would see its budget reduced from $19.6 billion this year to just below $19.1 billion. The space agency received just under $19.3 billion in fiscal year 2016.

The total budget is close to the $19.1 billion contained in a budget blueprint the Trump Administration released in March. The blue print provided guidance for the formal budget proposal to be released next week.


Another Orion Worry: Spacesuits

Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

The NASA Office of Inspector General has published another audit of the agency’s human spaceflight effort, and  the watchdog has found yet another area of concern: spacesuits being developed for Orion deep-space missions and the aging ones on the International Space Station.

“Despite spending nearly $200 million on NASA’s next-generation spacesuit technologies, the Agency remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit capable of replacing the EMU or suitable for use on future exploration missions,” the audit states. “As different missions require different designs, the lack of a formal plan and specific destinations for future missions has complicated spacesuit development. Moreover, the Agency has reduced the funding dedicated to spacesuit development in favor of other priorities such as an in-space habitat….


NASA’s Efforts to Shrink Agency Lagging

NASA’S Efforts to “Rightsize” its Workforce, Facilities,
and Other Supporting Assets
[Full Report — PDF]

Office of Inspector General
March 21, 2017

Why We Performed This Audit

To accomplish its diverse scientific and space exploration missions, NASA relies on specialized facilities and infrastructure, unique equipment and tools, and a highly skilled civil servant and contractor workforce. These assets, collectively known as technical capabilities, are spread across NASA’s 10 Centers and include more than 5,000 buildings and other structures, 17,000 civil servants, and tens of thousands of contractors. Over the years, striking the right balance among these various assets has been a top management challenge, with the Agency making a number of mostly unsuccessful attempts at “rightsizing” its technical capabilities.


NASA Will Take 2 Years to Complete Investigation into 2015 Falcon 9 Failure

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

NASA’s investigation into the Falcon 9 launch failure that destroyed a Dragon cargo ship in June 2015 keeps getting more and more interesting.

I checked in again last week with the space agency about when it would be releasing a public report on the 18-month old accident. This is what a NASA spokesperson told me (emphasis mine):

NASA’s final report on the SpaceX CRS-7 mishap is still in work. While the report is important in providing NASA historical data of the mishap, the accident involved a version of the Falcon 9 rocket that is no longer in use. Furthermore, while the public summary itself may only be a few pages, the complete report is expected to exceed several hundred pages of highly detailed and technical information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, NASA anticipates its internal report and public summary will be finalized in the summer 2017.

That is a rather long time, even for a sometimes pokey government agency investigating the failure of a booster variant no longer in use.

SpaceX Slips Falcon 9 Return to Flight into January


SpaceX provided the following update on the Falcon 9 return to flight this morning:

We are finalizing the investigation into our September 1 anomaly and are working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight, now in early January with the launch of Iridium-1. This allows for additional time to close-out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch.

You will undoubtedly recall that the second stage of a Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded on the launch pad three months ago as it was being fueled for a pre-flight engine test. A Spacecom communications satellite valued at $195 million was destroyed in the accident.


NASA OIG: Orion Facing Technical, Schedule & Funding Challenges

Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians prepare the Orion pressure vessel for a series of tests inside the proof pressure cell in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians prepare the Orion pressure vessel for a series of tests inside the proof pressure cell in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA’s Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program

NASA Office of Inspector General
Office of Audits
Report No. IG-16-029
September 6, 2016
[Full Report]

What We Found

The Orion Program has met several key development milestones on the path to its first crewed mission, including a successful test flight in December 2014. However, much work remains, including evaluating options related to the delayed delivery of the European Service Module; continuing mitigation of seven critical risks while operating with a less-than-optimal budget profile for a developmental project; addressing a potential shortfall of $382 million in reserves managed by its prime contractor; and successfully launching and recovering EM-1 after its uncrewed test flight scheduled for September 2018. At the same time, Program officials are working toward an optimistic internal launch date of August 2021 for EM-2 – 20 months earlier than the Agency’s external commitment date of April 2023. While we understand the desire to meet a more aggressive schedule, this approach has led the Program to defer addressing some technical tasks to later in the development cycle, which in turn could negatively affect cost, schedule, and safety.


NASA Suffering Significant Delays in Evaluating Commercial Crew Hazard Reports

Excerpted from, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts,” NASA Office of Inspector General, Report No. IG-16-028, September 1, 2016

Improvements Needed to Ensure Timely Reviews of Contractor Development Efforts

NASA is responsible for managing the certification process for the Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew transportation systems to ensure they meet Agency human rating requirements. Timely insight into the contractors’ activities is vital to ensure this process proceeds on schedule and within the agreed-upon budget. As part of the certification process and to provide insight into contractor efforts, Boeing and SpaceX conduct safety reviews and develop reports on potential hazards and the controls they have put in place to mitigate them (hazard reports) for NASA’s review.


Getting to Upmass: A Dragon’s Tale

A Station that Needs Everything
A Scrappy Startup Contracted to Ship 35.4 Metric Tons of It
Ought to be Easy Enough, Right?

SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The International Space Station (ISS) is not exactly a self-sufficient outpost. The station’s occupants can’t jump into a Soyuz and pop over to an orbiting Wal-Mart when they run out of food, water or toothpaste. Everything the six astronauts need to survive — save for the random plastic wrench or replacement part they can now 3-D print — must be shipped up from the majestic blue planet 400 km below them.


Bridenstine’s Bill Would Radically Restructure NASA

NASA LOGOBy Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.


NASA Audit Raises Concerns About SLS/Orion Infrastructure Development

Space Launch System on pad. (Credit: NASA)
Space Launch System on pad. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that while NASA has been making steady progress on rebuilding Kennedy Space Center’s infrastructure for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the agency is facing significant challenges in completing the work in time for a planned November 2018 launch.

“For the most part, these challenges originate from interdependencies between the GSDO, SLS, and Orion Programs, the report reads, referring to the Ground Systems Development and Operations program. “In short, GSDO cannot finalize and complete its requirements without substantial input from the other two Programs, and NASA is still finalizing the requirements for those Programs.”

OIG is particularly concerned that NASA had planned to complete the critical design review for GSDO in March 2015, several months prior to the critical design reviews for SLS (May 2015) and Orion (August 2015).


NASA IG Sees Problems Ahead for SLS, Orion Programs

Space Launch System in flight. (Credit: NASA)
Space Launch System in flight. (Credit: NASA)

The Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle programs are under short-term and long-term budget pressures that could cause significant schedule delays and limit NASA’s ability to conduct human deep-space exploration until the late 2030’s, the space agency’s watchdog said.


NASA Agrees to Revamp NEO Program in Wake of Critical OIG Report

Asteroid Eros
Asteroid Eros

Somewhere out there in the cosmos, there’s a giant rock with Earth’s name on it. Despite the danger, NASA’s effort to identify potentially dangerous near Earth objects and figure out what to do about them is disorganized and poorly managed, an internal audit has found.

“NASA has organized its NEO Program under a single Program Executive who manages a loosely structured conglomerate of research activities that are not well integrated and lack overarching Program oversight, objectives, and established milestones to track progress,” according to an audit issued Monday by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).


NASA Agrees to Revamp of Space Act Agreements

NASA_OIG_logoNASA has agreed revamp its procedures and policies for Space Act Agreements (SAA) in response to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found the space agency use of these contracts lacked adequate transparency, accountability, and oversight.

“In response to a draft of this report, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Mission Support concurred with our recommendations to increase awareness of NASA’s SAA opportunities, revise Agency policies to clarify when it is appropriate to use SAAs, implement the Reimbursable Process Team’s recommendations, include high-level program objectives and key safety elements in future funded SAAs, and codify milestone management procedures,” according to the report.


NASA OIG: Funding Problems Threaten Delays in Orion Program

NASA’s $16.5 billion deep space Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is suffering from underfunding that threatens increasing program risks and causing delays in a program that won’t fly with astronauts until 2021, the space agency’s watchdog reports.

“Constrained funding for the MPCV forced Program managers to adopt a less-than-optimal incremental development approach in which elements necessary to complete the most immediate tests are given priority while development and testing is delayed on other important but less time sensitive aspects of the Program,” NASA’s Inspector General said in an audit released this week. “While this may be the only realistic and affordable development approach available to NASA given the Program’s current funding profile, such an approach increases risks.”