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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Trump Signs NASA Authorization Act

President Donald Trump has signed a NASA authorization act that calls for spending $19.5 billion by the space agency in fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure stipulates the following funding levels for the space agency:

  1. Exploration, $4,330,000,000.
  2. Space Operations, $5,023,000,000.
  3. Science, $5,500,000,000.
  4. Aeronautics, $640,000,000.
  5. Space Technology, $686,000,000.
  6. Education, $115,000,000.
  7. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, $2,788,600,000.
  8. Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, $388,000,000.
  9. Inspector General, $37,400,000.

(more…)

House Passes NASA Authorization Act


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

(more…)

PBS News Hour Video on Returning to the Moon

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.

Elon Musk’s Bold Lunar Gambit: Dueling Moon Missions & a Shrinking Pie

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

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.

(more…)

NASA Authorization Act Calls for Study of Sending Orion to Space Station

NASA astronaut Suni Williams exits a test version of the Orion spacecraft in the agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston. The testing is helping NASA identify the best ways to efficiently get astronauts out of the spacecraft after deep space missions. (Credit: NASA)

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.

(more…)

NASA Examines Placing Crew on First SLS-Orion Flight

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

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.

So, NASA is examining whether it can give him one by putting a crew on the first Space Launch System-Orion flight, which is currently planned as a circum-lunar flight without astronauts aboard.

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.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Backs SLS

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.

Read the full story.

Congressmen Call for Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars


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.”

NASA Simulates Orion Spacecraft Launch Conditions for Crew

Orion simulation Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

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.

Major Review Completed for New SLS Exploration Upper Stage

Space Launch System in flight. (Credit: NASA)

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.

(more…)

ASAP’s Report Card on NASA Safety

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)
International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel
Annual Report for 2016
January 11, 2017
[Full Report – PDF]

Excerpts

Report Summary

Twelve topic areas, highlighted in this report, are summarized in the table below. They have been broken out to focus attention on individual topics that the Panel feels are worthy of note.

(more…)

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

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.

(more…)

NASA Looks Ahead to Major Milestones for Orion Program

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…)