NASA’s Uncertain Path Back to the Moon

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nothing illustrates the changes wrought by the Trump Administration’s decision to move up the deadline for returning astronauts to the moon from 2028 to 2024 than a pair of contracts NASA awarded for the Lunar Gateway that will serve as a staging point for the landing.

In May, Maxar won a competitively awarded $375 million contract to build the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). NASA released a source selection statement that detailed how officials evaluated the five bids they received and why Maxar’s proposal was superior to the others.

(more…)

NASA Successfully Tests Orion Abort System

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA successfully demonstrated Tuesday the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system can outrun a speeding rocket and pull astronauts to safety during an emergency during launch. The test is another milestone in the agency’s preparation for Artemis missions to the Moon that will lead to astronaut missions to Mars.

(more…)











GAO Says Artemis 1 Flight Could Slip Amid Rising Costs

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of NASA’s human lunar effort has concluded the Artemis 1 flight could slip to June 2021 as costs continue to rise.

“In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs—the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems—NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely,” the report concluded. “Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021.

(more…)











House Appropriations Committee Boosts Budgets for NASA, NOAA


WASHINGTON (House Appropriations Committee PR) — The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies funding bill, which will be considered in subcommittee on Friday, May 17. The bill funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other related agencies.

The text of the bill is here. The subcommittee markup will be webcast live and linked from https://appropriations.house.gov/events/markups.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $22.32 billion, $815 million above the 2019 enacted level. This funding includes:

  • $7.16 billion for NASA Science programs – $255.6 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
  • $123 million for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement, $13 million above fiscal year 2019 and rejecting the Administration’s request to eliminate funding for these programs, which help inspire and train the country’s future STEM workforce.
  • $5.1 billion for Exploration – $79.1 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. This includes funding to continue the development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and related ground systems.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – The legislation contains $5.48 billion for NOAA, which is $54.28 million above the fiscal year 2019 level and more than $1 million above the Administration’s request. Funding will help address important priorities such as climate research, improvements in weather forecasting, the reduction of harmful algal blooms, and fisheries management.

Editor’s Note: The measure does not seem to take into account the supplemental request made earlier this week for NASA.

Working on a freelance project right now, so I don’t have time to go through the bill. For anyone who has time to take a look at the text of the House markup (link above), here are some resources for comparison purposes:











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.

(more…)











FAA AST Budget: A Million Here, A Million There

faa_logoUPDATE: The commmitttee approved an amendment bringing the budget up to $19.826, which is what the Administration requested.

The House Appropriations Committee has recommended $18.826 million for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) for FY 2017, which is $1 million below the Obama Administration’s budget request.

The amount is $1 million above the enacted level for FY 2016.

“The recommended funding level will allow the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to add operational personnel to support an increased level of activity in its licensing, permitting and safety inspection functions,” the committee said in draft bill to be marked up on Tuesday.

(more…)











NASA Tests 3D Printed Engine Part

Engineers just completed hot-fire testing with two 3-D printed rocket injectors. Certain features of the rocket components were designed to increase rocket engine performance. The injector mixed liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen together, which combusted at temperatures over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, producing more than 20,000 pounds of thrust. (Credit:  NASA photo/David Olive)
Engineers just completed hot-fire testing with two 3-D printed rocket injectors. Certain features of the rocket components were designed to increase rocket engine performance. The injector mixed liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen together, which combusted at temperatures over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, producing more than 20,000 pounds of thrust. (Credit: NASA photo/David Olive)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA has successfully tested the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the agency and printed with additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, on a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

(more…)











Key Constituencies Still Not Sold on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission

In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)
In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)

It’s been four years since President Barack Obama announced that NASA would send astronauts to an asteroid sometime in the mid-2020’s. And more than a year has passed since the space agency unveiled a plan to retrieve said asteroid and return it to the vicinity of Earth so the astronauts wouldn’t have to travel so far.

And yet, NASA still faces an uphill battle to sell the mission to skeptics in Congress and the scientific community. Opposition to the plan surfaced again last week from multiple quarters, raising questions about whether the mission will survive after Obama leaves office in January 2017.

(more…)











Space Access Society Update

Earth_from_space_graphic
Space Access Update #136 7/27/14
Copyright 2014 by Space Access Society

In this Issue:

– Bill Gaubatz
– Experienced Engineering Teams And US Space Launch Development Policy
– SLS Sole-Sourcing
– 2014 Space Politics: Halftime Report

  • Senate Appropriations Impasse, Other Legislation
  • Commercial Crew & Cargo at Crossroads
  • Defense Launch & Propulsion Politics

– Supporting Space Access

(more…)











NASA Selects 18 Proposals for Asteroid Redirect Mission Studies

In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)
In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 18 proposals for studies under the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).  These six-month studies will mature system concepts and key technologies and assess the feasibility of potential commercial partnerships to support the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, a key part of the agency’s stepping stone path to send humans to Mars.

The agency is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept would fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other would retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would redirect an asteroid mass less than 10 meters in size to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.

(more…)











Administration Opposes Senate Provisions on Commercial Crew, Europa Mission

Credit: Matt Wade
Credit: Matt Wade

In a policy statement issued today, the White House took issue with two objectives near and dear to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): crippling NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and boosting its Space Launch System (SLS).

“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s support for the Commercial Crew program, but has concerns about language that would seek to apply accounting requirements unsuitable for a firm, fixed-price acquisition, likely increasing the program’s cost and potentially delaying its schedule,” the Administration said in the statement, which covers the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015.

(more…)











A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2015 Budget Prospects

Capitol BuildingAfter years of flat and declining budgets, it looks like NASA will get a funding boost this year from an unexpected source — Congress.

The FY 2015 budget measures coming out of the Senate and House actually boost the President’s proposed $17.46 billion spending plan by about $400 million. The Senate would spend an even $17.9 billion, while the House spending plan is just slight under that level at $17.896 billion.

(more…)











Senate Boosts NASA’s Budget

NASA LOGOThe Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a FY 2015 budget for NASA that totals $17.9 billion. The amount $439 million above the Obama Administration’s request and $254 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The spending plan is also in line with the $17.896 billion approved by the House.

Details on the Senate spending measure are still a bit sparse, but the Commercial Crew Program would receive $805 million, which is less than the $848 million requested by the Obama Administration but more than the House’s allocation of  $785 million.

Senators reportedly left in language inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that could drive up the cost of the Commercial Crew Program. See the Space Access Society alert for more details.

The Space Launch System would received $1.7 billion. The House has approved $1.6 billion for the heavy-lift rocket, while the Administration wants to spend $1.38 billion.

The International Space Station would received $3 billion, which is in line with what the House approved and the Administration proposed. Senators approved $5.2 billion for NASA’s Science program, a boost of more than $200 million over the Administration’s request.











The High Cost of SLS

Artist concept of the SLS in flight. (Credit: NASA)
Artist concept of the SLS in flight. (Credit: NASA)

I had a discussion recently with a friend of mine who does numbers crunching on big space program. This was the person’s take on what the Space Launch System (SLS) will actually cost once it gets up and running sometime in the early 2020’s.

(more…)