NASA Looks to Procure More Soyuz Seats Amid Commercial Crew Uncertainty

Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft docking at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Amid uncertainty about the Commercial Crew schedule, NASA has issued a pre-solitication procurement notice to secure additional rides with the Russians for its astronauts.

“NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation ‘Roscosmos’ for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crew member in the Spring of 2020,” the agency said in the Feb. 13 notice.

(more…)

Relativity Granted Industry-First Machine Learning 3D Metal Printing Patent, Adds Execs from SpaceX & Virgin Orbit

LOS ANGELES–(Relativity PR)–Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader, today announced the appointment of three aerospace veterans to its executive team and an industry-leading new patent grant for its autonomous 3D printing technology. The fast-growing company has now hired twelve former senior leaders from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Waymo, Zoox, and Tesla, and has secured a key patent for 3D printing metal using machine learning.

Tim Buzza, recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in rocket development, as well as among the first leaders and a twelve-year executive at SpaceX, and former Co-President and Vice President of Launch at Virgin Orbit, officially joins Relativity as Distinguished Engineer after serving as an Advisor to the company.

(more…)

SpaceX Protests NASA Contract Award to ULA

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed a protest over NASA’s decision to award an $148.3 million contract to rival United Launch Alliance for the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission.

“NASA has issued a stop work order on the agency’s Lucy mission after a protest of the contract award was filed with the Government Accountability Office,” agency spokesperson Tracy Young said Feb. 13. “NASA is always cognizant of its mission schedule, but we are not able to comment on pending litigation.”

SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. “Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency’s award decisions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

The Government Accountability Office has until May 22 to render a decision.

NASA Safety Panel: Commercial Crew Program Making Progress But Challenges Remain

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Even as SpaceX prepares to make its first Crew Dragon flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, challenges remain for certifying the vehicle to carry NASA astronauts, according to a new safety report.

In its annual report released last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) identified two inter-related safety concerns with SpaceX’s system: the redesign of helium composite overwrap pressure vessels (COPVs) used in the Falcon 9 rocket, and the company’s desire to load astronauts aboard Crew Dragon before fueling the booster.

(more…)

Pentagon Inspector General to Examine USAF Certification of Falcon 9

Falcon 9 lifts off on Spaceflight SSO-A mission. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Bloomberg reports that the Pentagon’s inspector general is going to review the U.S. Air Force’s certification process for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” the inspector general said in a memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent on Monday.

The Air Force’s certification of SpaceX in 2015 allowed the company take on military payloads, bringing competition to military space launches that were being handled solely by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between top defense contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. At the time, Musk said he was getting into the business in part to end a monopoly…

The memo to Wilson was signed by Michael Roark, deputy for intelligence and special program assessments. It didn’t give a reason for what prompted the evaluation. Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the inspector general, didn’t have an immediate comment as to what led to the evaluation.

NASA Safety Panel Pushes Back Against Commercial Crew “Paperwork” Complaints

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In its annual report issued last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) pushed back against complaints that the space agency has bogged down the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork.

“It should be recognized by all parties, both internal and external to NASA, that the certification process is not merely a ‘paperwork’ process; it involves considerable detailed technical activity by both NASA and the partners,” ASAP said.

(more…)

Spaceflight to Launch First Privately Funded Lunar Lander

Lunar lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

In partnership with SSL, Spaceflight will send its first rideshare mission to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 11, 2019 (Spaceflight PR) – Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, today announced it will launch two payloads on its first rideshare mission to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The mission is scheduled for no earlier than mid-February 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launching from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

(more…)

SpaceX Seeks Approval for Up to 1 Million Earth Stations for Starlink Constellation

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied for permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate up to one million Earth stations to serve its Starlink constellation of 4,425 Ku- and Ka-band communications satellites it plans to begin launching later this year.

“These user terminals employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, steered antenna beams that track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites,” SpaceX said in its application.

The Earth stations would be deployed in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, “including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks,” the company wrote.

“As the Commission has recognized, many communities across the United States and the world still lack access to reliable broadband connectivity, preventing them from fully participating in economic, social, and civic activities,” the application stated.

“To help close this digital divide, SpaceX is designing, constructing, and deploying an innovative, cost-effective and spectrum-efficient satellite system capable of delivering robust broadband service to customers around the world. SpaceX has already secured U.S. authority for the space station components of its NGSO [non-geosynchronous orbit] system,” the document said.

Lawmakers Seek Review of U.S. Air Force Decision Not to Award Funding to SpaceX

BFR in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceNews reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are seeking an independent review of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance for the development of new launch vehicles. California-based SpaceX was not awarded any funding.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

Feinstein and Calvert in the letter ask Wilson to “review how the Air Force intends to maintain assured access to space while preserving maximum competitive opportunities for all certified launch providers.” A copy of the letter was obtained by SpaceNews.

At issue are Launch Service Agreement contracts the Air Force awarded in October to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and United Launch Alliance. The three companies collectively received $2.3 billion to support the development of space launch vehicles that meet national security requirements. The Air Force started the LSA program in 2016 to ensure future access to space and to end its reliance on ULA’s Atlas 5 and its Russian main engine.

(more…)

Video: Falcon Heavy Flew One Year Ago Today

One year ago, I was on a beach in Florida watching the Falcon Heavy launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Today, I’m in Mojave where it is currently 37 F (2.8 C) and it was snowing and below freezing last night.

NASA, Buzz Aldrin Get Shout Out During State of the Union Speech

Buzz Aldrin salutes during the 2019 State of the Union address. (Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio/John Shinkle)

With Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in attendance, President Donald Trump gave a shout out to NASA during the annual State of the Union address.

“In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon. Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag: Buzz Aldrin. This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets,” he said.

NASA’s commercial crew program is set to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station later this year. Today, NASA released the following schedule for flight tests of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Flight Set for March 2

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and its Commercial Crew Program providers Boeing and SpaceX have agreed to move the target launch dates for the upcoming inaugural test flights of their next generation American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

The agency now is targeting March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April.

Test Flight Planning Dates:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

(more…)

NanoRacks Completes 15th CubeSat Mission on International Space Station

HOUSTON, January 31, 2019 (NanoRacks PR) — NanoRacks successfully completed the 15th CubeSat Deployment mission from the Company’s commercially developed platform on the International Space Station. Having released five CubeSats into low-Earth orbit, this mission marks NanoRacks’ 190th CubeSat released from the Space Station, and the 228th small satellite deployed by NanoRacks overall.

The CubeSats deployed were launched to the Space Station on the 16th contracted resupply mission for SpaceX from the Kennedy Space Center in December 2018.

NanoRacks offered an affordable launch opportunity, payload manifesting, full safety reviews with NASA, and managed on-orbit operations in order to provide an end-to-end solution that met all customer needs.

(more…)