For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.
The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.
Video Caption: Is there renewed focus inside the Trump administration, NASA and the private sector to revive travel to the moon? There are signs, like a single reference in President Trump’s address to Congress, that seem to suggest that a space journey may be sooner than we might think. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what we could learn and why it’s back on the table.
I’ve been puzzling for the last few days over the timing of Musk’s moon mission announcement, which was curious for several reasons.
First, it came soon after NASA announced its own study about whether to put astronauts on the first SLS/Orion test in 2019. Why would Musk risk undercuting his biggest customer, a space agency that has provided so much of SpaceX’s development and contract funding?
Second, Musk’s unveiling of the plan seemed to be a rushed, improvised affair. He tweeted about it the day before — a Sunday — and then held a press briefing for a small group of media that lasted all of about five minutes. The contrast with the carefully choreographed unveiling of his Mars transportation architecture last year in Mexico couldn’t be greater.
Third, Musk has never really shown much interest in the moon. Yes, SpaceX might have been doing some planning for a human mission there in private. But, that still doesn’t explain the timing.
The Senate-approved NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 would require the space agency to conduct a study of whether the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would be capable of carrying crews and supplies to the International Space Station.
Reports out of the leaking like a sieve Trump Administration say the president is looking for some space spectacular that can be conducted in time for his re-election campaign in 2020 to serve as evidences he’s made America great again.
NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, in a speech at the Space Launch System/Orion Suppliers Conference here Feb. 15, and a memo emailed at the same time to the agency’s workforce, said he had directed Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, to begin a study on the feasibility of putting a crew on the first SLS mission, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1)….
Current plans call for the EM-1 mission to launch in late 2018 without a crew. The first crewed flight would be EM-2, which NASA is planning to launch in 2021. However, an assessment in 2015 performed as Orion reached a development milestone known as Key Decision Point C indicated that there was a 70 percent chance the EM-2 mission would launch no later than April 2023.
Lightfoot, in the memo, said the study will examine the technical and schedule issues of flying a crew on EM-1. “I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed,” he wrote, “and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date.”
That work, as Lightfoot suggested in his memo, would likely delay the EM-1 launch from its current estimated launch window of September to November 2018. Industry sources said they believe addressing the various issues would delay the mission to 2019 or 2020. That would still be sooner than current NASA schedules for EM-2.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is now backing NASA’s Space Launch System, the multi-billionaire heavy lift vehicle.
In a speech opening the 20th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference here Feb. 7, Alan Stern, chairman of the board of the industry group, said the organization believes that the SLS could potentially be useful for its members.
“The exploration of space for all purposes, including commercial spaceflight, is our interest. And to that end, the CSF is announcing that we see many potential benefits in the development of NASA’s Space Launch System,” Stern said in his remarks. “The SLS can be a resource that benefits commercial spaceflight.”
Stern said in an interview after his speech that support for SLS came up in a meeting of the CSF’s board the previous day. “CSF has evolved over the years. There’s a strong net benefit in SLS,” he said.
That support comes, though, as some of CSF’s own member companies are developing their own heavy-lift vehicles. SpaceX is planning the first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket later this year, and unveiled plans for a far larger booster last year as part of its Interplanetary Transport System. Blue Origin also plans to debut a heavy-lift rocket, the New Glenn, by the end of the decade, with notional concepts for a potentially much larger vehicle called New Armstrong.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) have filed bills calling for NASA to develop a clear strategy for placing astronauts on Mars.
The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act of 2017 calls for the space agency to accomplish this goal “through a series of successive, sustainable, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule, and other capabilities.”
The cis-lunar elements include the expansion of human presence into lunar orbit, lunar surface, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the martian surface. The plan must include opportunities for collaboration with international partners, private companies and other federal agencies.
The strategy would identify how the International Space Station could support the program, and include “a range of exploration mission architectures and approaches for the missions…including capabilities for the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System.”
In a lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers simulated conditions that astronauts in space suits would experience when the Orion spacecraft is vibrating during launch atop the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket on its way to deep space destinations. A series of tests occurring this month at Johnson will help human factors engineers assess how well the crew can interact with the displays and controls they will use to monitor Orion’s systems and operate the spacecraft when necessary.
Test subjects wore modified advanced crew escape suits that are being developed for astronauts in Orion, and sat in the latest design of the seat atop the crew impact attenuation system. This was the first time this key hardware was brought together to evaluate how launch vibrations may impact the astronaut’s ability to view the displays and controls. While Orion’s late 2018 mission will be uncrewed, engineers are hard at work performing all the necessary evaluations to make sure the spacecraft is ready for crewed missions beginning as early as 2021.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA has successfully completed the exploration upper stage (EUS) preliminary design review for the powerful Space Launch System rocket. The detailed assessment is a big step forward in being ready for more capable human and robotic missions to deep space, including the first crewed flight of SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft in 2021.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — From the beginning of assembly work on the Orion crew module at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to testing a range of the spacecraft systems, engineers made headway in 2016 in advance of the spacecraft’s 2018 mission beyond the moon. A look at the important milestones that lie ahead in the next year give a glimpse into how NASA is pressing ahead to develop, build, test and fly the spacecraft that will enable human missions far into deep space. (more…)
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2016, NASA drove advances in technology, science, aeronautics and space exploration that enhanced the world’s knowledge, innovation, and stewardship of Earth.
“This past year marked record-breaking progress in our exploration objectives,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We advanced the capabilities we’ll need to travel farther into the solar system while increasing observations of our home and the universe, learning more about how to continuously live and work in space, and, of course, inspiring the next generation of leaders to take up our Journey to Mars and make their own discoveries.” (more…)
President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.
Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space. He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.