Friday, July 30, 2021

Artemis Update: NASA to Resume Working with SpaceX on Its Starship Lunar Lander for the Artemis 3 Mission...

An artist's concept of astronauts conducting a moonwalk near the base of SpaceX's Starship lunar lander.
SpaceX

Statement on Blue Origin-Dynetics Decision (Press Release)

The following is a statement from Kenneth E. Patton, Managing Associate General Counsel for Procurement Law at GAO, regarding today’s decision resolving the protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, and Dynetics, Inc. – A Leidos Company, B-417839 et al., Friday, July 30, 2021.

On Friday, July 30, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, of South Kent, Washington, and Dynetics, Inc.-A Leidos Company, of Huntsville, Alabama. The protesters challenged their non-selection for awards and the award of optional contract line item numbers to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, under Option A to Appendix H of Broad Agency Announcement (the announcement) No. NNH19ZCQ001K.

Broad Agency Announcements typically provide for the acquisition of basic and applied research for new and creative research or development solutions to scientific and engineering problems. The rules for these procurements are not the same as those for standard competitive federal procurements, as agencies generally enjoy broader discretion in selecting the proposals most suitable to meeting their research and development needs when utilizing broad agency announcement procedures. The announcement was issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for a demonstration mission for a Human Landing System for lunar exploration.

NASA made award to SpaceX for a total evaluated price of $2,941,394,557. After noting that SpaceX submitted the lowest-priced proposal with the highest rating, and that the offers submitted by Blue Origin and Dynetics were significantly higher in price, NASA also concluded that the agency lacked the necessary funding to make more than one award.

In the challenge filed at GAO, the protesters argued that the agency was required to make multiple awards consistent with the announcement’s stated preference for multiple awards. Alternatively, the protesters alleged that the agency was required to open discussions, amend, or cancel the announcement when NASA, after the receipt of proposals, determined that it had less funding than it needed to support multiple HLS awards. The protesters also argued that NASA unreasonably evaluated all three of the proposals. Finally, the protesters argued that NASA improperly waived a mandatory solicitation requirement for SpaceX.

In denying the protests, GAO first concluded that NASA did not violate procurement law or regulation when it decided to make only one award. NASA’s announcement provided that the number of awards the agency would make was subject to the amount of funding available for the program. In addition, the announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all. In reaching its award decision, NASA concluded that it only had sufficient funding for one contract award. GAO further concluded there was no requirement for NASA to engage in discussions, amend, or cancel the announcement as a result of the amount of funding available for the program. As a result, GAO denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.

GAO next concluded that the evaluation of all three proposals was reasonable, and consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the announcement’s terms.

Finally, GAO agreed with the protesters that in one limited instance NASA waived a requirement of the announcement for SpaceX. Despite this finding, the decision also concludes that the protesters could not establish any reasonable possibility of competitive prejudice arising from this limited discrepancy in the evaluation.

GAO’s decision expresses no view as to the merits of these proposals. Judgments about which offeror will most successfully meet the government’s needs are reserved for the procuring agencies, subject only to statutory and regulatory requirements. GAO’s bid protest process is handled by GAO’s Office of General Counsel and examines whether procuring agencies have complied with procurement laws and regulations.

Today’s decision was issued under a protective order because the decision may contain proprietary and source selection sensitive information. GAO has directed counsel for the parties to promptly identify information that cannot be publicly released so that GAO can expeditiously prepare and release a public version of the decision. When the public version of the decision is available, it will be posted to our website, “www.gao.gov.”

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office

Thursday, July 29, 2021

ISS Update: Nauka's Eventful Arrival at the Orbital Outpost Has Caused Starliner's OFT-2 Launch to be Delayed...

Russia's 'Nauka' Multipurpose Laboratory Module docks with the International Space Station...on July 29, 2021.
NASA / Shane Kimbrough

After an 8-day voyage in low-Earth orbit, Russia's Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) reached the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:29 AM, EDT (6:29 AM, PDT) today...but not without incident.

Hours after it successfully docked at the ISS (using its Kurs automated docking system), Nauka began firing its thrusters—even though they should've been shut down immediately after the 22-ton spacecraft mated with the nadir port on Russia's Zvezda module.

The errant thruster firings were extensive to the point that the ISS became tilted 45 degrees from its normal attitude...prompting Roscosmos to rely on Zvezda and the Progress MS-17 freighter to restore attitude control by firing their own thrusters to counter Nauka's aberrant behavior. This action was successful, even though the space station crewmembers were ordered to close all window shutters as a precaution during this operation.

Misson controllers later found out that Nauka's flight computer was still configured for docking procedures, so they waited till the ISS passed over a Russian ground station to command the MLM's computer to deactivate all thrusters.

The ISS astronauts were never in danger during Nauka's misfirings, but these were enough to force NASA to delay tomorrow's launch of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule on Orbital Flight Test (OFT)-2 to no earlier than next Tuesday, August 3.

Already at the pad, Starliner and its Atlas V rocket will be rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 to await the next launch attempt.

If Starliner lifts off on August 3, T-0 would be at 1:20 PM, EDT (10:20 AM, PDT)—during an instantaneous launch window.

Nauka approaches Russia's Zvezda module at the International Space Station for docking...on July 29, 2021.
Roscosmos / Oleg Novitskiy

Nauka continues to fire its thrusters as it is about to fully dock with the Zvezda module...on July 29, 2021.
NASA TV

Starliner and its Atlas V rocket will be rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 to await a new launch date in response to the Nauka incident...on July 29, 2021.
United Launch Alliance

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Artemis 1 Update: Orion Continues to be Prepped for Its Move to KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building Several Weeks from Now...

The launch abort tower is installed on the Orion capsule inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on July 23, 2021.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Last week, the launch abort tower was attached to the Orion capsule inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

This milestone occurred last Friday, July 23...with the next step being the installation of four ogive panels that will form the fairing assembly enshrouding Orion during the first few minutes of flight on Artemis 1.

Once Orion has been fully attached to its launch abort system, the crewed vehicle will be transported to KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building—where it will be mated to the Space Launch System, completing stacking operations for the Artemis 1 Moon rocket. This is set to occur in late August or early September.

Inside the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC, technicians have already placed 7 of 13 special CubeSats inside the Orion Stage Adapter (OSA). This process started on July 14.

The remaining satellites—which will travel to destinations ranging from lunar orbit, the Moon's surface and all the way to deep space—should be installed inside OSA within the next two weeks.

The first of 13 CubeSats is about to be installed inside the Orion Stage Adapter at Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility...on July 14, 2021.
NASA

Monday, July 26, 2021

ISS Update: Today's Removal of Russia's Pirs Docking Port Has Cleared the Way for Nauka's Arrival This Thursday...

Russia's Progress MS-16 freighter, with the Pirs module attached to it, undocks from the International Space Station on July 26, 2021.
ESA / Thomas Pesquet

Earlier today, the unmanned Progress MS-16 capsule undocked from the International Space Station (ISS)...bringing along with it Russia's Pirs module which had been attached to the outpost since September of 2001. Departure of the Progress freighter and the ISS component took place at 6:55 AM, Eastern Daylight Time (3:55 AM, Pacific Daylight Time), and destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere for the two vessels occurred after 10:01 AM, EDT (7:01 AM, PDT).

Pirs' removal from the ISS clears the way for the arrival of the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), Russia's newest space station segment that launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Wednesday (July 21), and will dock to the orbital outpost this Thursday, July 29.

Originally scheduled to lift off in 2007, Nauka's flight was delayed for over a decade due to financial issues and technical problems (such as the piping in MLM's propulsion system being contaminated by metallic dust—causing a full hardware replacement to be carried out). Technical problems were also an issue shortly after Nauka's launch...as additional hiccups with its main propulsion system delayed the module from conducting its first orbit-raising maneuver by 24 hours. This also postponed Pirs' removal from last Friday (July 23) to this morning.

With Pirs gone, this seems to imply that Roscosmos has the utmost confidence in Nauka safely docking to the ISS three days from now. It's only fitting that a space station module with a problem-plagued history as significant as that of MLM would have a nail-biting arrival at its orbital destination.

Here's hoping that this nail-biting arrival will lead to triumph for the ISS program and cheers at Roscosmos this Thursday. Godspeed, Nauka.

The Progress MS-16 freighter and Pirs module re-enter Earth's atmosphere...as seen from aboard the International Space Station on July 26, 2021.
Roscosmos

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

On This Day in 2011: The Space Shuttle Program Comes to a Successful End...

The orbiter Atlantis deploys her drogue chute as she touches down on the Shuttle Landing Facility's Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...completing mission STS-135 on July 21, 2011.
NASA / Kenny Allen

A decade ago today, the orbiter Atlantis safely touched down on the Shuttle Landing Facility's Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida—successfully completing flight STS-135, and bringing the space shuttle program to a triumphant end. With the International Space Station (ISS) fully stocked for the next twelve months thanks to supplies brought to the orbital outpost via the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, the main STS-135 payload, Atlantis returned home after a mission that concluded the shuttle's 13-year involvement with the ISS program. Russia's Soyuz capsule was the only crewed vehicle to visit the station for the next nine years, but the shuttle program left behind an enduring legacy which would be continued when SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour lifted off for the outpost in May of last year. And the shuttle's imprint can once again be felt inside Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building...with the Space Launch System undergoing stacking operations (for Artemis 1) that once took place on the shuttle and Apollo Saturn V rockets before it.

It is refreshing to know that as one chapter in NASA's human spaceflight history ended, a new one is finally unfolding in its place. Ad astra.

The Space Launch System rocket undergoes stacking operations for Artemis 1 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on July 8, 2021.
NASA / Glenn Benson

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

New Shepard Makes Its First Crewed Flight on Apollo 11's 52nd Moon Landing Anniversary...

Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Mark Bezos and his brother, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (not fully visible) float inside the New Shepard capsule 105 kilometers (65 miles) above the Earth...on July 20, 2021.
Blue Origin

Blue Origin Safely Launches Four Commercial Astronauts to Space and Back (News Release)

Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard’s first human flight today with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.

Upon landing, the astronauts were greeted by their families and Blue Origin’s ground operations team for a celebration in the West Texas desert.

A Historic Mission

- Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly in space.
- Oliver Daemen, 18, was the first-ever commercial astronaut to purchase a ticket and fly to space on a privately-funded and licensed space vehicle from a private launch site. He also became the youngest person to fly in space.
- New Shepard became the first commercial vehicle under a suborbital reusable launch vehicle license to fly paying customers, both payloads and astronauts, to space and back.
- Jeff and Mark Bezos became the first siblings to ever fly in space together.

“Today was a monumental day for Blue Origin and human spaceflight,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “I am so incredibly proud of Team Blue, their professionalism, and expertise in executing today’s flight. This was a big step forward for us and is only the beginning.”

Blue Origin expects to fly two more crewed flights this year, with many more crewed flights planned for 2022.

Source: Blue Origin

****

Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk pose for a pre-launch group photo on July 19, 2021.
Blue Origin

The New Shepard booster is about to touch down at Blue Origin's Launch Site One outside Van Horn, Texas...on July 20, 2021.
Blue Origin

Wally Funk triumphantly exits from the New Shepard capsule after making her first flight into space at the age of 82...on July 20, 2021.
Blue Origin


Monday, July 19, 2021

Starship Update: Super Heavy Booster 3's Raptor Engines Have Ignited for the First Time...

SpaceX's Super Heavy Booster 3 prototype ignites its three Raptor engines during a static fire at Starbase, Texas...on July 19, 2021.
SpaceX

Almost two hours ago, the three Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster 3 (B3) prototype ignited for the first time during a static fire at Starbase, Texas. According to the tweet by Elon Musk below, the engine firing lasted for the expected duration. Depending on the construction progress of Super Heavy Booster 4, B3 will conduct another static fire—this time with nine Raptor engines installed. When it officially becomes operational, Super Heavy will have 33 Raptor engines to help it lift Starship to the Moon and beyond.

Today's successful test comes one day after the 8th of 9 tower sections was added to the Super Heavy's Launch Tower at Starbase's Orbital Launch Site (as shown below). SpaceX continues to make great strides in developing the rocket and its ground infrastructure that will allow Starship to one day send people on a long-awaited journey to Mars.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Inspiration4 Crew Marches On Towards Its September Launch into Space...

The Inspiration4 astronauts pose for a group photo inside the Crew Dragon flight simulator at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Inspiration4 / SpaceX

Just thought I'd share this group photo that the Inspiration4 astronauts took during their training inside a Crew Dragon flight simulator at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California. From left to right are Christopher Sembroski (the Mission Specialist symbolizing 'Generosity'), Dr. Sian Proctor (the Pilot symbolizing 'Prosperity'), Jared Isaacman (the Spacecraft Commander symbolizing 'Leadership') and Hayley Arceneaux (the Chief Medical Officer symbolizing 'Hope'). Liftoff of Inspiration4 aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience capsule remains scheduled for September 15, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Assuming that the launch date isn't changed, splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean at the end of this historic mission will take place on September 18.

Resilience will orbit 340 miles (547 kilometers) above the Earth...about 90 miles (145 kilometers) higher than the altitude where the International Space Station resides, and the farthest that humans have soared above our planet since the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission (on STS-125) in 2009. Atlantis orbited as high as 359 miles (578 kilometers) during that shuttle flight. T-minus 59 days till Inspiration4 heads into space!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Photo of the Day: Starliner Has Moved One Step Closer to the Launch Pad for OFT-2...

The CST-100 Starliner that will fly on Orbital Flight Test-2 is about to be mated with its Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida...on July 17, 2021.
United Launch Alliance

Earlier today, technicians transported Boeing's CST-100 Starliner from its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Once it was brought to SLC-41's Vertical Integration Facility, Starliner was hoisted up and mated to its Atlas V rocket—which will send the capsule on its journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on July 30. Orbital Flight Test (OFT)-2 is scheduled to lift off at 2:53 PM, Eastern Daylight Time (11:53 AM, Pacific Daylight Time) that day...with Starliner docking at the ISS on July 31. The mission will last up to five days, with the CST-100 touching down at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on August 4.

If OFT-2 is successful, Crew Flight Test-1 is set to lift off later this year...though a launch date in early 2022 is a stronger possibility for this mission. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Storied Career of a Space Pioneer Has Come to an End...

Former U.S. Marine Colonel Doug Hurley is now a retired NASA astronaut.
SpaceX

Trailblazing Astronaut Doug Hurley Retires from NASA (Press Release)

NASA astronaut and former U.S. Marine Col. Doug Hurley is retiring from NASA after 21 years of service. His last day with the agency is July 16.

“Doug Hurley is an exceptional astronaut whose leadership and expertise have been invaluable to NASA’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “His impact on the agency transcends his impressive work in spaceflight, inspiring us to take on bold endeavors. I extend my deepest gratitude to Doug and wish him success in his next adventure.”

Hurley’s career highlights include 93 days in space on missions that include the final space shuttle flight and the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Hurley was spacecraft commander on the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which launched May 30, 2020, and safely returned to Earth Aug. 2, 2020. The flight was the fifth time in history that NASA astronauts have flown on a new U.S. spacecraft and marked a new era of human spaceflight, enabling crewed launches to the International Space Station from American soil on commercially built and owned spacecraft. As a space station crew member for 62 days, he and crewmate Bob Behnken contributed more than 100 hours supporting the orbiting laboratory’s scientific investigations.

“Doug Hurley is a national hero,” said Reid Weisman, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “He is a pioneer in human spaceflight who inspires the next generation. Doug made significant impacts everywhere he served at NASA. Our very best wishes for him, his family, and his future pursuits. We thank Doug for his service.”

Hurley joined NASA at Johnson in August 2000 as an astronaut candidate. On his first spaceflight, in 2009, Hurley was pilot for the STS-127 flight of space shuttle Endeavour, helping deliver and install the final two components of the International Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module, Kibo, and its Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module. He flew again in 2011, as the pilot for STS‐135, which was the 33rd flight of space shuttle Atlantis, the 37th shuttle mission to the space station, and the 135th and final mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

“Doug brought experience and leadership vital to our continued success in human spaceflight. He shared his critical learning from his missions during many years in human spaceflight to a new team,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “Many of us know and love him as one of the dads on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight – it’s personal to fly a member of our NASA family, and important for the team working these missions always to keep in mind he and his family is in our hands.”

Through a variety of roles, Hurley also supported NASA astronauts on Earth. Following the completion of two years of training and evaluation, he was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office, which included lead astronaut support personnel at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for space shuttle missions STS‐107 and STS‐121. He was shuttle landing and rollout instructor, served on the Columbia Reconstruction Team at Kennedy, and worked in the Astronaut Office’s Exploration Branch in support of the Orion Program. He also was NASA’s director of operations in Russia, based at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, and assistant director for the Commercial Crew Program for the Flight Operations Directorate.

“For 21 years, I’ve had the incredible honor of participating in the American space program and working alongside the extremely dedicated people of NASA. To have had a place in the assembly of the International Space Station, and the Space Shuttle Program including flying on its final mission, STS-135, has been a tremendous privilege,” said Hurley. “To then have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Commercial Crew Program, specifically working with SpaceX, on to commanding the first flight of Crew Dragon, and finally, as a perfect end to my flying career, serving onboard the space station as a resident crew member. On personal level, there were many significant life moments, too, at NASA that have had their forever impact on me. The loss of my colleagues on space shuttle Columbia. And meeting my wife here and starting our family. It is truly humbling when reflecting back on it all.”

Hurley was born in Endicott, New York, but considers Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He graduated from Owego Free Academy, in Owego, New York, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans.

Source: NASA.Gov