NASA Shutting Down Asteroid Retrieval Mission

Artists concept of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission capturing an asteroid boulder before redirecting it to an astronaut-accessible orbit around Earth’s moon. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is shutting down its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an Obama-era program that Congress gave little love and even less month.

In a presentation at a June 13 meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) here, Michele Gates, program director for ARM at NASA Headquarters, said the mission received its “notice of defunding” from agency leadership in April, weeks after a budget blueprint document for fiscal year 2018 released by the White House called for cancelling the mission.

“We are in an orderly closeout phase, capturing all the good work that has been done across the team, and transitioning activities as appropriate to other potential missions or archived for future use,” she said.

ARM called for sending a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid, where it would grab a boulder a few meters across from the asteroid’s surface and return it to cislunar space. Astronauts flying on an Orion spacecraft would then visit the boulder, performing studies and collecting samples for return to Earth.

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Three CubeSats Get Rides on First SLS-Orion Flight

Three teams earned a $20,000 prize check and a slot to launch their CubeSat on Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. NASA’s Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, Steve Jurczyk, Benjamin Fried of team CU-E3, Kyle Doyle of team Cislunar Explorers, Wesley Faler of Team Miles, and NASA’s Ames Research Center Director, Eugene Tu. (Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has awarded rides for three small spacecraft on the agency’s newest rocket, and $20,000 each in prize money, to the winning teams of citizen solvers competing in the semi-final round of the agency’s Cube Quest Challenge.

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SLS & Orion Delays Have Multiple Causes

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System.  (Credit: NASA)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2017 assessment of NASA’s 21 largest programs contained a stark warning: the agency was in increasing danger of slipping the first flight (EM-1) of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle scheduled for November 2018.

But, by the time the assessment was published on May 16, it was already outdated: NASA officials had already announced a delay to an unspecified time in 2019.

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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.

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GAO: Improvements in NASA Cost & Schedule Performance Might Not Be Sustainable

The LEMNOS project will provide laser communications services to NASA’s Orion vehicle, show in this artist concept. (Credit: NASA)

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that NASA while has continued to improve its cost and schedule performance on major projects, the space agency might not be able to sustain the trend much longer due to projects such as the Space Launch System and Orion.

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NASA Will Not Fly Crew on First SLS/Orion Mission

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials announced on Friday the first combined flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be conducted without a crew as originally planned. They also said the flight test will slip from 2018 to 2019.

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Has NASA Decided to Put Crew on First SLS Flight?

If this is true, it will be only the second time in history that a crew has flown on on the first flight of a launch vehicle.

The only other time was the space shuttle — and they had to do it. There was no way to fly the space shuttle without a crew. As the book “Into the Black” shows, that mission came close to disaster during launch due to a shock wave that bounced off the pad and damaged the forward connector between the shuttle and the external tank. The force also nearly damaged the tail flap.

Yes, the Orion spacecraft will have an abort system. But still, it is very risky to put a crew on the very first flight of a brand new booster. Other human launch vehicles were tested separately and with spacecraft before any crews were placed on board.

Another concern is the Orion spacecraft, whose only flight test lacked crucial equipment such as the service module and life support.

The flight might come off just fine. But, I fear that NASA’s concern about keeping the program funded, and Donald Trump’s desire for some space spectacular to boost his re-election chances, could combine to produce something very unfortunate.

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Orbital ATK Tests Orion Escape Motor

DULLES, Va. (Orbital ATK PR) — Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, announced today that it has completed another milestone in the development of the Attitude Control Motor (ACM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System (LAS). Members of the NASA and Lockheed Martin team were on hand to witness the successful ACM test, which demonstrated the motor’s power to steer the LAS during a mission-abort scenario.

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Congressional Budget Gives NASA $19.6 Billion

NASA would receive $19.653 billion for fiscal year 2017 under an Omnibus spending bill released on Monday by Congressional appropriators, an increase of more than $600 million requested by the Obama Administration. NASA received just under $19.3 billion in FY 2016.

The bill was released seven months into the 2017 fiscal year. The government has been operating on continuing resolutions since the year began last Oct. 1.

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GAO Report: First SLS-Orion Flight to be Delayed

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

The first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion deep-space spacecraft — known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) –will be delayed beyond its November 2018 launch date, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“The EM-1 launch date is likely unachievable as technical challenges continue to cause schedule delays. All three programs face unique challenges in completing development, and each has little to no schedule reserve remaining between now and the EM-1 date, meaning they will have to complete all remaining work with little margin for error for unexpected challenges that may arise.” the report states.

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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….

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Audit Finds Significant Challenges for NASA’s Journey to Mars

The LEMNOS project will provide laser communications services to NASA’s Orion vehicle, show in this artist concept. (Credit: NASA)

A new audit by NASA’s Office of Inspector General has found the space agency faces significant obstacles in its plan to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

NASA’s initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars – EM-1 and EM-2 – face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates,” the report states about missions planned for 2018 and 2021.

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NASA Laser Communications to Provide Orion with Faster Connections

The difference in image quality between the Apollo 8 Earthrise image, left, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Earthrise image, right, is due, in part, to the much higher data rate available for LRO’s communications. LEMNOS will provide another order of magnitude improvement over current data rates. (Credits: NASA)

By Ashley Hume
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Md.

NASA is working to forever change the way astronauts communicate to and from space using an advanced laser communications system called LEMNOS, which will enable exponentially faster connections than ever before.

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Russia Plans to Send Cosmonauts to the Moon

Ergonomic testing has been conducted for the new Federation spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

RSC Energia has launched the development of a new human spacecraft named Federatsiya (Federation) that will replace the 40-year-old Soyuz vehicles and enable Russia to send cosmonauts to the moon, Tass reports.

Federation will be capable of carrying crews of four into Earth orbit and deep space on missions of up to 30 days. The spacecraft could stay in space up to a year if docked with a space station, which is double the duration of the Soyuz spacecraft.

The new spacecraft could be a key element in what appears to be an emerging plan to place a space station in lunar orbit. NASA is exploring such a facility to test technologies required for sending astronauts to Mars.

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