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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
The 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.
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.
The Obama Administration released an update of the National Science Transportation Policy last week. The policy was widely praised for emphasizing commercial space transportation while at the same time directing NASA to focus on deep space exploration.
Below are reactions from key groups followed by a fact sheet released by the White House.
Commercial Spaceflight Federation
“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation applauds the clear vision of this Policy, which includes strong continued support for the use of competitive commercial space services. (more…)
During the Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium is being held this week in Huntsville, discussion has naturally turned to the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy lift booster being designed in the same city where von Braun and his team created the massive Saturn V.
Two very different views of SLS have emerged during the symposium. Its detractors say it is a massive boondoggle that will be squeezed out of existence by its own massive costs, low flight rate and tight government budgets. Meanwhile, the companies build the SLS say the booster’s immense launch capacity is the key to deep space exploration and could create a demand for additional missions that would increase flights rates and lower unit costs.
In the video above, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Dan Dumbacher lays out the nominal launch schedule for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS). There will be an unmanned test in 2017, followed by a test with a crew aboard four years later. SLS will then be launched every other year (2023, 2025, etc.). Dumbacher says that NASA is examining whether the system could be launched once a year.
In a separate interview with the Houston Chronicle, former NASA manned space flight director Chris Kraft says that SLS will never become a reliable human-rated booster even if the space agency can manage one launch per year.
Kraft also says that the costs of building and operating SLS, along with the low flight rate, will prevent NASA from actually doing anything in deep space.
Aviation Week takes a closer look at Deputy Administrator Lori Garver’s impending Sept. 6 departure from NASA. Frank Morring, Jr. notes that Garver has been the major driver behind the agency’s controversial push for commercial space activities as well as the plan to capture an asteroid and have astronauts visit it. He also notes the following:
Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s No. 3 manager and top-ranking civil servant, is a likely possibility to fill Garver’s post on an acting basis until the White House can nominate another political appointee….
Garver’s departure will come on the heels of Elizabeth Robinson, the agency’s chief financial officer, who has been named under secretary of energy. Robinson and Garver were staunch allies in the often-heated management policy debates that pitted them against more traditional NASA managers, including Administrator Charles Bolden.
The announcement of Garver’s departure has already caused consternation among her supporters in the NewSpace community, who are losing their highest ranked advocate at the space agency at a critical time when Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over the space agency’s funding and direction.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has achieved a major milestone in its effort to build the nation’s next heavy-lift launch vehicle by successfully completing the Space Launch System (SLS) preliminary design review.
BREMEN, Germany (OHB AG PR) — MT Aerospace AG, part of the European space and technology group OHB AG, signed an authorization to proceed with The Boeing Company for the development and production of large tank components for the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) core stage. Boeing is a prime contractor for the SLS, which is scheduled for first launch in 2017.
Stennis Space Center, MS (NASA PR) — Before NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) flies to space on its inaugural mission in 2017, it will fly in place at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
The B-2 Test Stand at Stennis, originally built to test Saturn rocket stages that propelled humans to the moon, is being completely renovated to test the SLS core stage in late 2016 and early 2017. The SLS stage, with four RS-25 rocket engines, will be installed on the stand for propellant fill and drain testing and two hot fire tests.