Monday, May 20, 2019

NASA Begins Issuing "Non-Traditional" Procurement Contracts for Human Rated Lunar Landers

          By Henry Stewart

NASA has begun issuing contracts to US based companies to develop human rated lunar landers as part of US President Donald Trump's plan to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

In an effort to keep costs down and speed up program roll-out, the contracts will be based around "public/private partnership" procurement methodologies and not the "cost-plus" methodologies traditionally favored by NASA and other national space agencies, including Canada's.

As outlined in the May 16th, 2019 NASA press release, "NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers," the new contracts were issued last week to eleven companies for preliminary design studies and the development of prototypes that "reduce schedule risk for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system."

The awards total $45.5Mln US ($61Mln CDN) and "will help put American astronauts - the first woman and next man - on the Moon's south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028," according to the press release:
To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business. We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations," said Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters. 
"Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process."
The awards were made under the NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. The successful companies are required to contribute at least 20% of the total project cost of the contract.

To expedite the work, NASA will be invoking what they describe as "undefinitized" contract actions, which allow the agency to authorize partners to start on components of a larger project, while negotiations for the undefined project components continue in parallel.

The eleven companies receiving contracts are from eight states located across the US. They include:
  • Canoga Park CA based Aerojet Rocketdyne -  Awarded one contract for a transfer vehicle study.
  • Kent WA based Blue Origin - Awarded three contracts covering one descent element study, one transfer vehicle study and one transfer vehicle prototype.
  • Houston TX based Boeing - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Huntsville AL based Dynetics -  Awarded six contracts covering one descent element study and five descent element prototypes.
  • Littleton CO based Lockheed Martin - Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study and one refueling element study.
  • Dulles VA based Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems -  Awarded seven contracts covering one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.
  • Edison NJ based ORBITBeyond - Awarded two contracts covering two refueling element prototypes.
  • Louisville CO and Madison WI based Sierra Nevada Corporation - Awarded five contracts covering one descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype and one refueling element study.
  • Hawthorne CA based SpaceX - Awarded one contract for one descent element study. 
  • Palo Alto CA based SSL - Awarded two contracts covering one refueling element study and one refueling element prototype.

In April 2019, NASA notified US industry of its intention to partner with US based companies to develop an integrated lander.

The formal solicitation is expected to be issued sometime this summer, It's expected to provide a general overview of the requirements for a 2024 human landing, "and leave it to US industry to propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration," according to the NASA press release.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

No Canadarms Needed Under Current US Plans to Return to the Moon by 2024 Says NASA's Gerstenmaier

          By Chuck Black

Short weeks after noting in the May 1st, 2019 post "The Canadian Space Agency has Begun Issuing Millions of Dollars in New Canadarm Contracts for the US Lunar Gateway" that, "if the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) really wanted to build a new "3rd generation Canadarm" for the NASA led US Lunar Gateway, then it might want to wait until someone figures out if and/or when the US wants one," someone has figured out that NASA doesn't really want one.

One of the most famous catchphrases of the 50s was from the TV show, The Life of Riley, which ran from 1953 to 1958. The show featured William Bendix as kind-hearted doofus Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at the Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. When Riley's well-intentioned blunders blew up in his face, he'd turn to the camera and exclaim,  "What a revoltin' development this is!" Kinda reminds you of Canada. Graphic c/o Imgflip.

At least not for today and not until an alternative plan to plant American astronaut boots on the Moon by 2024 is completed.

The information, as outlined in the May 14th, 2019 SpaceQ post, "Accelerated NASA Moon Landing Plan Doesn’t Need Canadian Robotic System," derived from a series of e-mails from Bill Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. The emails occurred after a May 13th, 2019 NASA teleconference announcing a preliminary budget for the Moon 2024 initiative and naming the project "Artemis."

According to the post, Gerstenmaier said that “at this point in our planning the robotic arm is not required for the 2024 landing.” He also said “we would like the arm as soon as available. The CSA arm concept is very creative and (could) be used inside (of the station) as well.”

This publication has never been a fan of SpaceQ, finding the writing and editorial stance tilted way too far away from journalism in favor of promoting legacy CSA subcontractors, but this particular article is timely and throws most of Canada's space community into a tailspin.

As outlined in the February 28th, 2019 post, "Canada Becomes the First Nation to Formally Commit to the NASA Lunar Gateway Plan," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the initial announcement that Canada would be contributing to the US Lunar Gateway in late February, just before the 2019 Federal budget was released and the US decided to change its plan.

Unlike the current Canadian space program, which is locked in concrete until after the next Federal election in October 2019. the NASA's preliminary budget is still expected to be subjected to months of political infighting before being finalized.

As outlined in the May 14th, 2019 post, "Trump Proposes Extra $1.6Bln for NASA's 2024 Return to Moon," the proposed budgetgives NASA an additional $1.6Bln US ($2.2Bln CDN) in fiscal year 2020, on top of the $21Bln US ($28Bln CDN) already allocated to the space agency."

The plan calls for American astronauts to return to the moon using American made landers and hardware.

But NASA won't get the money "until Congress, which has the power of the purse, officially signs off." No one really knows when that will happen or what will happen with next years budget.

Most observers expect that far more funding will be required in future years. The long-term political prognosis for the proposal is, so far at least, far from favorable. 

So while its good that NASA's Mr. Gerstenmaier is still interested in getting free Canadarms which can be traded for future astronaut slots, informed Canadians should note that the US budget and its NASA component are targeted specifically at programs designed to further US interests.

Not Canadian interests. 

Back in March, almost as soon as Canada committed funding for the US Lunar Gateway, the US government, as outlined in the March 28th, 2019 post, "If NASA is Putting US Boots on the Moon by 2024, Who Will Pay for the Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System?," quietly began the process of throwing Canada's proposed contribution under the bus.

In retrospect, this country and the ruling Justin Trudeau Liberal government was foolish to bet so much of its space future on a US space program focused almost exclusively on US domestic and international concerns. 

Let's see about cleaning up our mistake. Canada's space activities should address Canadian concerns, grow Canada's space industry and solve Canadian problems on Canadian timetables.

We don't need to serve as an adjunct to someone else's space program.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Proposed CASTOR Space Telescope is Looking for Funding

          By Chuck Black

A design for a proposed Canadian space telescope intended to provide panoramic, high-resolution imaging in the UV/optical (0.15–0.55 µm) spectral region is being revisited by many of the same academics, scientists and engineers who contributed to the initial design.

The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR) was the subject of a thirty five page Canadian Space Agency (CSA) position paper seven years ago, but the project has received no substantive funding since the paper was published in March 2012.

The original CASTOR proposal was developed in response to the Canadian Astronomical Society's (CASCA) 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy, a review of Canadian capabilities intended to outline "the broad goals and directions of astronomical and astrophysical research in Canada," over the period from 2010 - 2020.

It derived from an earlier CASCA plans to champion a domestically based large space telescope project in order to promote Canadian academic and private sector capabilities to the rest of the world.

As outlined in the CASCA 2010 Long Range Plan:

  • The highest priority in space astronomy is: “…significant involvement in the next generation of dark energy missions — ESA‘s Euclid, or the NASA WFIRST mission, or a Canadian-led mission, the Canadian Space Telescope (CST).”
  • … Canadian space astronomy technology has reached the point that we could [now] lead a large space astronomy mission (such as the Canadian Space Telescope).”
  • Leading such a project would break new ground for Canadian space astronomy and present numerous opportunities for Canadian companies to showcase technological capabilities.” 

The CASCA Joint Committee on Space Astronomy advises the CSA on matters pertaining to the space astronomy segment of the CSA space science program including priorities, areas of research, selection mechanisms and funding. They thought that they had a decent chance of moving the program forward, but after the initial reception, the plan languished in unfunded space project purgatory, where it seemingly remained until last week.

Early milestones in CASCA's quest to generate the CST. Chart c/o the July 2014 CASCA CASTOR website

The revival came on the Space Matters website from one of the original authors of the 2012 CASTOR proposal. As outlined in the May 9th, 2019 Space Matters post, "CASTOR: a Beaver or a Canadian Space Telescope?," space astronomy is on the verge of a revolution:
In the next decade, a pair of sophisticated imaging telescopes — Europe’s Euclid mission and NASA’s WFIRST mission — will survey the skies at red-optical and infrared wavelengths, hoping to unlock the secrets of Dark Energy, a mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. 
CASTOR has been designed to complement these by providing razor-sharp images at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and blue-optical region.
CASTOR would not only open a new window on the cosmos, but it would succeed the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as the world’s preeminent imaging facility at these wavelengths. Launched in 1990, HST is nearing the end of its lifetime, and astronomers worldwide will soon lose access to the razor-sharp imaging capabilities that have propelled their research to new heights and captivated the pubic in the process.
Author Patrick Côté is an astronomer at the National Research Council’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria BC and one of the contributors to the 2012 CASTOR proposal.

The Space Matters website began in 2018 with a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PromoScience grant to the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at the University of Western Ontario (Western).

Current partners in the Space Matters collective also include the Canadian Association of Science Centres, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Partners in Research Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Cover page from the March 2012 CSA overview of CASTOR, which included a list of contributing authors. Cambridge ON based COM DEV International would likely have become the prime contractor for the program had it been approved and funded by the CSA, which accounts for the large number of COM DEV contributors. Graphic c/o CSA.

Will CASTER ever receive enough funding to move forward? That's not likely given the upcoming election and the uncomfortable fact that the natural prime contractor for the project is no longer in existence.

In November 2015, Cambridge ON based COM DEV International, a strong contributer to the 2012 CASTOR position paper, was purchased by Charlotte NC based Honeywell International.

It's unknown if the current owners would be able to take on the prime contractor role for CASTER. Maybe that's something that can be revisited at some point.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. 

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