NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

SpaceX
Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. SpaceX anticipates using the launch pad for its Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: SpaceX

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

NASA is launching a 4K TV channel

NASA is partnering with Harmonic, a worldwide leader in video delivery infrastructure, to launch NASA TV UHD, the first ever non-commercial consumer ultra-high definition (UHD) channel in North America.

The channel will stream on the Internet, which will require at least 13 MBps access connectivity to receive the signal and enjoy the UHD experience. Harmonic currently is in discussions with pay TV operators to carry the channel on the satellite, cable and optical networks for consumer access. The new UHD channel is expected to launch on Nov. 1, following preliminary tests.

Using an end-to-end UHD video delivery system from Harmonic, NASA Television will have the capability to deliver linear 2160p60 video content, allowing viewers to enjoy footage on a wide range of television and internet-connected devices. The partnership is the result of a Space Act Agreement between Harmonic and the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Partnering with Harmonic gives NASA an outlet for its UHD content, which has four times the resolution of HD and is the next iteration of digital television,” said Robert Jacobs, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Communications at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Leveraging the 8-megapixel resolution of UHD, the channel will showcase the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of space. NASA TV UHD video will be sourced from high-resolution images and video generated on the International Space Station and other current NASA missions, as well as re-mastered footage from historical missions.

“As NASA reaches new heights and reveals the unknown, the NASA TV UHD channel can bring that journey to life in every home. And as organizations at the forefront of innovation, together we are leading the adoption of this exciting technology,” said Peter Alexander, chief marketing officer at Harmonic. “As the leader in UHD development, Harmonic provides a complete solution for Ultra HD video production and delivery, enabling content and service providers to offer better video quality at a low total cost of ownership.”

Epic Video Takes Pluto-mania Viral

Video on NASA’s New Horizons Mission Gets a Million Views in a Week; This Extended Director’s Cut Version Dropped Today on YouTube

This extended version of a viral video detailing NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, entitled “New Horizons [Extended Version]” was released today to the public via YouTube. A shorter version of the video had gone viral just two weeks prior, amassing over a million views in less than a week.

The video, commissioned by the non-profit National Space Society, highlights the historical significance of the New Horizons mission.

The fastest spacecraft ever created, New Horizons will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, 50 years to the day after humans first explored Mars with NASA’s Mariner 4 on July 14, 1965. The spacecraft will beam back high resolution imagery and invaluable scientific data of the dwarf planet’s surface for the first time in human history, thus bringing a dramatic culmination to 50 years of NASA’s initial efforts in planetary reconnaissance.

“This extended version of the video, New Horizons, is amazing, showing why we explore the planets, and what an incredible and historic accomplishment human beings have achieved in the past 50 years – from the first missions to Venus and Mars to New Horizons at Pluto – in that pursuit,” said Alan Stern, NSS member and Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The National Space Society Releases a Stirring Video to Salute the Arrival of NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft at Pluto and the Completion of the First Reconnaissance of the Planets by NASA

(Washington DC, June 16, 2015) On July 14th, NASA’s New Horizons mission will make its closest approach to the Pluto system, completing the first reconnaissance of the Solar System, begun over 50 years ago by NASA. With the completion of the Pluto flyby by New Horizons next month, NASA will have completed successful missions to every planet in the Solar System from Mercury to Pluto.

To celebrate, NSS commissioned a short video film titled “New Horizons,” which is being released today. The stirring video recognizes the historic culmination of this era of first planetary reconnaissance, for which the United States will be forever inscribed in history. New Horizons, can be watched and shared here:

National Space Society’s New Horizons Video

Pluto and Charon art for NSS New Horizons Video
Pluto, its moon Charon, and the New Horizons spacecraft (small white dot near right edge) in a scene from the NSS Video

“NSS is delighted to support the New Horizons mission by helping to share this exciting milestone in space exploration with the general public in America and around the world,” said NSS Senior Operating Officer Bruce Pittman.

The New Horizons video was funded by contributions to NSS made by New Horizons mission partners Aerojet Rocketdyne, Ball Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and United Launch Alliance. New Horizons was directed and produced by Erik Wernquist, whose video Wanderers, looking to the future of solar system exploration by humans, created a viral sensation last year. New Horizons principal investigator and NSS member Alan Stern served as advisor to the video.

“As both an NSS member and the Principal Investigator of New Horizons, I’m excited about this beautiful film—and very appreciative of the efforts of NSS and its sponsors to create this. It really is stirring; I hope you’ll think so too.” said Alan Stern.

NASA Administrator Statement on Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Vote on Commercial Crew Budget

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee vote Wednesday on NASA’s Fiscal Year 2016 commercial crew budget:

Charles F. Bolden
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations subcommittee does not fully support NASA’s plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia.

“Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our Commercial Crew Program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget.

“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.

“I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”

NASA’S International Space Apps Challenge

NSS Sacramento Chapter is Participating April 11-12, 2015

Mark your calendar for this free and engaging weekend of fun for all ages! For the first time the NASA Space Apps Challenge comes to Sacramento with dozens of challenges on the themes of Earth, Outer Space, Humans and Robotics. Tell your friends and colleagues – we want all techies, artists, scientists, designers, makers, space nerds – come with your ideas, create or join a team and make the future happen!

WHEN: On April 10-12 people in over 100 cities around the globe are participating in the largest Space Apps Challenge in history to design innovative solutions to global challenges.

WHERE: Entrepreneurs Campus, 909 Mormon Street, Folsom, CA 95630

More information on the NASA Space Apps Challenge:

The International Space Apps Challenge is an international mass collaboration focused on space exploration that takes place over 48-hours in cities around the world. The event embraces collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing relevant open-source solutions to address global needs applicable to both life on Earth and life in space. This year has over 25 challenges in four areas: Earth, Outer Space, Humans and Robotics. NASA is leading this global collaboration along with a number of government collaborators and over 100 local organizing teams across the globe.

  • 2014 had 8,000 participants in 46 countries in 95 cities and had 671 projects on the most popular “Challenges” – Growing Food for a Martian Table, Astronaut Wearables, Robot of ExoMars Rover for Education, Game or App Creation of Satellite Images.
  • Opportunity to create relationships with regional makers, designers, technologists, videographers, academics, students, scientists, investors and entrepreneurs
  • Join a creative team and solve world problems using publicly available NASA data to create open source solutions.
  • Prizes and awards to be announced…top winners get judged by NASA.

BONUS: NASA is placing a special emphasis on women in data this year. Participate in the first NASA Bootcamp streamed live from NYC to improve skills with code, data and project advocacy on Friday, April 10th.  Join the Sacramento Chapter for this live event at the Entrepreneurs Campus location given above.

You must register for the NASA Space Apps Challenge to attend any of the events around the world (it’s free). You can use this link specifically for Sacramento. For more information about the Sacramento events, contact Ingrid.Rosten@gmail.com or (408) 691-4784.

The International Space Station as a Research Hub

From Dale Skran, Deputy Chair, NSS Policy Committee:

One of the major foci of the NSS Policy Committee has been and continues to be supporting the International Space Station and the associated critical Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) programs.  One reason both are so important to the ISS lies in the incredible value of the ability to both move new experiments to the ISS on a regular basis, and to return experimental results when they are ready.  It should be noted that the Russian Soyuz is a very tight fit for the three astronauts, and it has virtually no return-to-Earth cargo capacity.  Thus, without the CRS SpaceX Dragon, there would be no way to return experiments to Earth. NASA has produced the interesting half-hour video below that reviews science and technology efforts on the ISS during 2014.

NASA Commercial LEO Workshop

On December 10-11, 2014, NASA held a workshop on the commercialization of low Earth orbit.  The goal of the workshop was to start a dialog about creating a thriving commercial marketplace in LEO over the next decade, enabled by human spaceflight.  Historically, NASA has been both the primary supplier and consumer of human spaceflight capabilities and services in LEO.  However, NASA has begun to change this historical model by purchasing cargo transportation services commercially and is facilitating the development of commercial crew transportation and rescue capabilities.  By the end of 2017, NASA plans to purchase both crew and cargo delivery services to the ISS from commercial suppliers.  By the 2020’s, near the planned end of the life of the ISS, NASA’s intention is to transition LEO from being government-led to significantly more private sector involvement (both supply and demand side).  In this scenario, both research requirements and investigations are private sector need driven, and the supply-side transportation and microgravity capabilities are private sector provided.

To date, NASA has worked on establishing a private sector transportation capability for both cargo and crew.  Also, NASA, through CASIS and other efforts, has offered the ISS as venue for the private sector to explore the benefits of space-based research for terrestrial companies.  In the future, it will be critical for a commercial market for microgravity capabilities be developed by the private sector.  Creating this marketplace will require the efforts of both government and industry.  Through the information and ideas gathered and developed during this workshop, NASA intends to formulate a new strategy – including new initiatives and projects – designed to encourage the emergence of this commercial marketplace to the maximum extent possible.

Topics covered included enabling policy statements and incentives; enabling mission goals; promising commercial markets in LEO; commercial operation of ISS systems; promising microgravity R&D investment areas of high probable return to the nation; barriers to commercialization of LEO.

Some key questions that were discussed included:

  • What regulation changes and investment incentives would encourage commercial research and application activities in LEO?
  • What kind of intellectual property rights protections are required to engage private capital for research on ISS?
  • What are the most promising near-term market opportunities in LEO and how can they better be enabled using the ISS?  What are the most promising long-term applications of LEO that the ISS program can enable?
  • Is there a business case outside the government for multiple LEO platforms that are specialized for individual markets  (tourism, micro-gravity research/production, free-flying human tended Earth observing platform, etc.)?
  • What can the government do to encourage LEO supply providers to seek non-NASA customers for their services or capabilities?
  • Is there an overlap between LEO commercial platform capabilities and NASA’s exploration goals?

A summary of the workshop will be posted by NASA in January along with possible future activities.

Presentations:

NASA – Sam Scimemi, Director, International Space Station

FAA – Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

CASIS – Greg Johnson, Executive Director

Industry Perspectives:

Carlos Grodsinsky, ZIN Technologies

James Muncy, PoliSpace

Astronaut Lunar Ambassadors 45th Anniversary Splashdowns

The 45th anniversaries of the Apollo lunar missions are now upon us and the National Space Society (NSS) is honoring the heroic accomplishments of these brave lunar astronauts. Monday, November 24, 2014, is the 45th anniversary of the return-to-Earth splashdown of Apollo 12, the second mission to land people on the Moon.

Apollo 12 splashdown
Apollo 12 splashdown, November 24, 1969

NSS hereby announces that it is granting the title of “Lunar Ambassador” to the crew members of the first two Apollo lunar landing missions. NSS, the leading nonprofit organization promoting space development and settlement, has taken this step to remind the world of the significance of humans reaching the Moon.

Apollo 11 and 12 patches

“NSS is proud to extend this honor to our pioneering Apollo astronauts who have led humanity’s advance into space,” said Mark Hopkins, chair of the NSS Executive Committee.

NSS intends to confer the title of “Lunar Ambassador” on the members of the remaining Apollo crews as they reach the 45th anniversaries of their flights. All of these are steps leading to the historic 50th anniversary, July 20, 2019, of mankind’s first human Moon landing.

The Apollo missions were the result of a commitment by President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the Moon and return him safely before the end of the sixties. A similar presidential commitment would be very appropriate on the historic 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon.

New NASA report on “Emerging Space” emphasizes private-public cooperation

When NASA was founded, only a government program could undertake a voyage from the Earth to the Moon. This may not be true in the future.

Thus begins a new NASA report, “Emerging Space” that emphasizes private-public cooperation in creating a “new economic ecosystem in space”. The 42-page, 44-megabyte report is available for free download in PDF format.

Emerging Space

Below are paragraphs from the first and last pages:

The next era of space exploration will see governments pushing technological development and the American private sector using these technologies as they expand their economic activities to new worlds. NASA’s next objectives for exploration—visits to asteroids and Mars—are more complex than any previous space mission attempted. They will happen in the context of relatively smaller NASA budgets and an expanding commercial space economy. Teaming with private sector partners to develop keystone markets like low Earth orbit (LEO) transportation and technological capabilities like asteroid mining will help NASA achieve its mission goals, help the space economy evolve to embrace new ambitions, and provide large economic returns to the taxpayer through the stimulation and growth of new businesses and 21st century American jobs.

Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just to reach a destination. Our goal is to develop the capabilities that will allow the American people to explore, pioneer, and expand our economic sphere into the solar system. To do this we will build on our long-standing relationships with American industry by embracing new and diverse forms of partnerships. Private-sector leadership in space exploration was the normal state of affairs in America before the foundation of NASA. Today, we have recognized the advantages of that earlier model in terms of private-sector energy and initiative, combined it with NASA’s legacy of technical expertise and programmatic accomplishment, and have helped give rise to the birth of a ‘Second Space Age’. The space economy of the future will come about through the combined efforts of government, private industry, scientists, students and citizens, each playing their own unique and essential role. Together, we will create a new economic ecosystem in space that will hasten our journey into the cosmos.