NASA: Falcon 9 Failure in 2015 Caused by “Design Error”

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years after a SpaceX Falcon 9 failed in flight sending a Dragon resupply ship to the bottom of the Atlantic, NASA has finally released a public summary of its own investigation into the accident. [Public Summary — PDF]

You might recall that SpaceX’s internal accident investigation blamed a defective strut assembly in the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. The strut, provided by an outside supplier, snapped under launch stresses, causing a helium bottle inside the tank to break free and destroy the LOX tank, the company said.

The NASA investigation found that is a credible scenario for the accident. However, the space agency blamed a “design error” by SpaceX. The table below shows a summary of the investigation’s technical findings.


Smith Praises Lightfoot on Retirement from NASA

Lamar Smith

WASHINGTON  – U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today released the following statement after NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced his upcoming retirement.

Chairman Smith: “Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years. He has worked in many capacities starting as a test engineer and rising to NASA’s highest ranking civil servant as associate administrator before heading the agency as acting administrator. His commitment to America’s spaceflight program and space exploration has been an immense asset for NASA, and we will miss his leadership at NASA’s helm. As Acting Administrator Lightfoot said himself, ‘NASA make[s] the impossible possible.’ I thank Robert for all he has done to achieve the impossible, and I look forward to a smooth transition to the next administrator and to what’s to come as NASA soars toward its next achievements.”

NASA Selects Advanced Manufacturing Projects for SBIR Contracts

NASA has selected four advanced manufacturing projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program.

Ultratech Machinery, Made in Space, Supercool Metals and Intelligent Optical Systems were selected for two-year contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece. Each company received funding for its project under the first phase of the SBIR program.

Ultratech Machinery is being funded to develop a multi-material, ultrasonic additive manufacturing (3D printing) laboratory for use aboard the International Space Station (ISS).


NASA Outlines New Lunar Science, Human Exploration Missions

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is focused on an ambitious plan to advance the nation’s space program by increasing science activities near and on the Moon and ultimately returning humans to the surface.

As part of the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning a new Moon-focused exploration campaign that starts with a series of progressive commercial robotic missions.


Made in Space Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Made in Space focused on producing advanced crystals and high-strength components for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Each two-year Phase II is worth up to $750,000.

The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) would produce “nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber,” according to the proposal.


Vector Selected for NASA SBIR Award

NASA has selected Vector Launch company for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to demonstrate a micropump-based stage pressurization system. The two-year contract is worth up to $750,000.

“Electrically-driven micropumps drive a small portion of each propellant over a novel 3D-printed heat exchanger at the engine to pressurize the tanks. Excess flow can be diverted to the engine as needed,” the company said in its proposal.


NASA Selects Variable Gravity ISS Centrifuge for Funding

NASA has selected a proposal from Techshot to develop a variable gravity rodent centrifuge for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The two-year Phase II contract is worth up to $750,000.

“The counter-balanced centrifuge is designed to provide a facility to allow rats and mice to live and be observed in simulated gravity between 0-1 g for up to 90 days,” the company said in its proposal. “This streamlined design is more cost efficient and provides up to five cages. Each cage can accommodate at least six 30 gram mice, three 200 gram rats, or two 400 gram rats per cage.”


Tethers Unlimited’s MakerSat Would Allow Small Satellites to Grow on Orbit

Tethers Unlimited has been selected to receive up to $750,000 in NASA funding to demonstration technology that would allow small satellites to grow after they are launched into orbit.

The company’s MakerSat project was one of 128 proposals selected by NASA for phase II funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The contracts last two years.


House Space Subcommittee Members Criticize Inaction on Bridenstine Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Members of the House Space Subcommittee were none-too-pleased on Wednesday when Robert Lightfoot showed up to testify about NASA’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget.

It had nothing to do with Lightfoot, whom members praised effusively for the job he’s done as acting administrator over the past 13 months. Lightfoot, a career civil servant, took over after Charles Bolden resigned as the President Barack Obama ended his term.

Instead, their anger was focused on the Senate, which has yet to take action on the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as NASA’s administrator six months after President Donald Trump nominated him.


NASA Awards $96 Million to U.S. Small Businesses for Tech Research, Development

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 128 proposals from American small businesses to advance research and technology in Phase II of its 2017 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. These selections support NASA’s future space exploration missions, while also benefiting the U.S. economy.

“We look forward to working with these promising small businesses to further advance NASA’s missions,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “NASA is proud of our investment in the success of small businesses and its long-term impact on our economy.”


How an Inoperative CubeSat Still Holds STEM Lessons

The STMSat-1 as it was deployed from the space station, shown here as the leading nanosatellite. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — In December 2015, Gabe MacPhail, a seventh grader at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia, travelled to Florida along with 100 other members of the school’s community to watch as the fourth Orbital-ATK Cygnus Commercial Resupply Service lifted into orbit atop an Atlas V rocket aimed toward the International Space Station.


A Closer Look at NASA’s Proposed Human Exploration Plan

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would launch the first element of a human-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in 2022 under a proposed exploration plan that would make use of commercial and international partnerships.

A power and propulsion module would be followed soon afterward by habitation, airlock, and logistics modules. The gateway would serve as a base for astronauts to explore the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 lifted off from the surface in 1972.


Review: Scott Kelly’s Memoir About a Year in Orbit

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
by Scott Kelly with Margaret Lazarus Dean
Alfred A. Knoff
369 pages

Scott Kelly was failing out of college when he spotted a book at the campus store that would utterly change his life: The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s classic tale of Cold War-era test pilots and the Mercury astronauts.

As he read Wolfe’s prose, Kelly realized that flying jets had the same type of adrenaline rush he felt working as an EMT, which had been the only thing he had excelled at thus far. He decided he would pursue a career as an U.S. Navy aviator.

Decades later, he would call Wolfe in the midst of a year-long stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to thank him and ask for advice about how to write a book of his own.

Endurance is the result. The memoir doesn’t live up to Wolfe’s stylistic brilliance, but what the book lacks in style it more than makes up for in inspiration.

NASA, Partners Seek Input on Standards for Deep Space Technologies

This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. (Credits: NASA/NOAA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In order to maximize investment in, and benefits of, future deep space exploration platforms and technologies, NASA and its International Space Station partners have collaborated to draft standards that address seven priority areas in which technology compatibility is crucial for global cooperation.