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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday February 12 2020, @10:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the gravitas++ dept.

SpaceX brings on NASA's former top spaceflight official as it prepares to launch first astronauts:

SpaceX is only a couple of months away from its first attempt at launching astronauts and the company has brought in one of the foremost experts in human spaceflight to help it do so successfully.

William Gerstenmaier, the former leader of NASA's human spaceflight program, has now begun working at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, people familiar with his hiring told CNBC. In his new role Gerstenmaier is reporting to SpaceX vice president of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann, those people said, as the company prepares to begin launching astronauts.

A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed that Gerstenmaier is a consultant for the company's reliability engineering team.

Previously Gerstenmaier served as the NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for nearly 14 years. In total he had a four decade career with NASA, working on programs ranging from the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station. Gerstenmaier is widely considered one of the world's top specialists in flying humans in space, frequently testifying before Congress on the subject.

SpaceX has hired a key NASA official to help with human spaceflight:

SpaceX has confirmed that NASA's former chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, has joined the company as a consultant as it prepares to launch astronauts for the first time.

[...] He immediately brings credibility to the company's safety culture. Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, who now chairs the human spaceflight committee of NASA's Advisory Council, told Ars last summer, "Bill was recognized by everybody as being technically well-grounded and very astute. He was known to listen carefully and to make his judgments based on good technical reasons."

[...] In his new position, Gerstenmaier is reporting to Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of Mission Assurance at SpaceX. Although the role is officially a consultancy, it is expected to become a full-time position. SpaceX is poised to launch the first crewed mission of its Dragon spacecraft by June of this year. Gerstenmaier will play a key role in ensuring the safety of those missions and helping SpaceX secure certification for the Crew Dragon vehicle.

[...] Gerstenmaier and SpaceX have a complicated relationship, but he has supported Elon Musk at key moments during the company's development. In December 2008, Gerstenmaier saved a cash-strapped SpaceX with a Commercial Resupply Service contract for operational cargo missions to the International Space Station.

Gerstenmaier's decision to maintain two competitors as part of the commercial crew program in 2014 (SpaceX and Boeing) was also essential, although it was not a company-saving move. Boeing was lobbying hard for all of the funds and very nearly got them. Gerstenmaier was the deciding official who kept two providers in the competition. It has proven to be a smart decision, as SpaceX is poised to beat Boeing into space by months, if not years, at 50 percent less cost.

With Gerstenmaier Gone, Decision to Fly NASA Astronauts May be More Contentious
New Head of Human Exploration at NASA Committed to Reaching the Moon by 2024
NASA Chief Says a Falcon Heavy Rocket Could Fly Humans to the Moon
2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration
NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station

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Related Stories

NASA's Chief of Human Spaceflight Rules Out Use of Falcon Heavy for Lunar Station 43 comments

NASA chief explains why agency won't buy a bunch of Falcon Heavy rockets

Since the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, NASA has faced some uncomfortable questions about the affordability of its own Space Launch System rocket. By some estimates, NASA could afford 17 to 27 Falcon Heavy launches a year for what it is paying annually to develop the SLS rocket, which won't fly before 2020. Even President Trump has mused about the high costs of NASA's rocket. On Monday, during a committee meeting of NASA's Advisory Council, former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale raised this issue. Following a presentation by Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of human spaceflight for NASA, Hale asked whether the space agency wouldn't be better off going with the cheaper commercial rocket.

[...] In response, Gerstenmaier pointed Hale and other members of the advisory committee—composed of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the space agency—to a chart he had shown earlier in the presentation. This chart showed the payload capacity of the Space Launch System in various configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon. "It's a lot smaller than any of those," Gerstenmaier said, referring to the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity to TLI, or "trans-lunar injection," which effectively means the amount of mass that can be broken out of low-Earth orbit and sent into a lunar trajectory. In the chart, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 metric tons. (The chart also contains the more advanced Block 2 version of the SLS, with a capacity of 45 tons. However, this rocket is at least a decade away, and it will require billions of dollars more to design and develop.)

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy TLI capacity is unknown, but estimated to be somewhere between 18 and 22 tons (between the known payloads of 16.8 tons to Mars and 26.7 tons to geostationary orbit).

Does the SLS need to launch more than 18 tons to TLI? No. All of the currently planned components of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly the Deep Space Gateway) have a mass of 10 tons or less due to flying alongside a crewed Orion capsule rather than by themselves. Only by 2027's Exploration Mission 6 would NASA launch more massive payloads, by which time SpaceX's BFR could take 150 tons to TLI or even Mars when using in-orbit refueling.

Related: NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort

Original Submission

2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration 56 comments

NASA is going back to the Moon, perhaps permanently, as seen in a new road map (image):

Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.

"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.

While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.

To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:

  • Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
  • Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
  • Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
  • Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.

This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1


Original Submission

NASA Chief Says a Falcon Heavy Rocket Could Fly Humans to the Moon 24 comments

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

NASA chief says a Falcon Heavy rocket could fly humans to the Moon

[...] Until now, it was thought that only NASA's Space Launch System could directly inject the Orion spacecraft into a lunar orbit, which made it the preferred option for getting astronauts to the Moon for any potential landing by 2024. However, [NASA Administrator Jim] Bridenstine said there was another option: a Falcon Heavy rocket with an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage built by United Launch Alliance.

[...] This plan has the ability to put humans on the Moon by 2024, Bridenstine said. He then emphasized—twice—that NASA's chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, has yet to bless this approach due to a number of technical details. His reservations include the challenge of integrating the Falcon Heavy rocket in a horizontal position and then loading Orion with fuel in a vertical configuration on the launchpad. The Falcon Heavy would also require a larger payload fairing than it normally flies with. This would place uncertain stress on the rocket's side-mounted boosters.

"It would require time [and] cost, and there is risk involved," Bridenstine said. "But guess what—if we're going to land boots on the Moon in 2024, we have time, and we have the ability to accept some risk and make some modifications. All of that is on the table. There is nothing sacred here that is off the table. And that is a potential capability that could help us land boots on the Moon in 2024."

Original Submission

New Head of Human Exploration at NASA Committed to Reaching the Moon by 2024 18 comments

After shocking leadership shakeup at NASA, new head of human exploration says moon 2024 is doable:

Less than 24 hours after being named head of human exploration at NASA, former astronaut Ken Bowersox said the agency is trying to speed up decision-making in its quest to reach the moon by 2024.

"The key is we need to fly when we're ready, but if we don't shoot for 2024 we have zero chance," Bowersox said Thursday at the American Astronautical Society's John Glenn Memorial Symposium. "Our attitude is to get as much of this going as we can — to move as fast as we can, as long as we can."

Bowersox' brief remarks in Cleveland follow the shocking announcement Wednesday night that Bill Gerstenmaier — a pillar in NASA's human exploration operations since 2005 — was out as the agency's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

The announcement was made in a Wednesday email to NASA employees from Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "As you know, NASA has been given a bold challenge to put the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, with a focus on the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars," he wrote. "In an effort to meet this challenge, I have decided to make leadership changes." He then named Bowersox — a 62-year-old veteran of five space shuttle flights — as Gerstenmaier's replacement.

The decision — which surprised many in the space community — comes as NASA continues a years-long struggle to keep its human exploration plans on track. Projects such as the Space Launch System rocket being built to launch humans to the moon and the commercial crew program, meant to alleviate the country's reliance on Russia for transportation to the International Space Station, are years behind schedule.

See also: To the Moon and beyond

Related: 2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration
NASA Chief Says a Falcon Heavy Rocket Could Fly Humans to the Moon
Here's Why NASA's Audacious Return to the Moon Just Might Work
Lockheed Martin Proposes Streamlined Lunar Gateway for 2024 Manned Lunar Landing
Artemis: NASA to Receive $1.6 Billion for 2024 Manned Moon Landing
NASA Orders First Segment of Lunar Station for 2024 Artemis Moon Mission
Project Artemis: Return to the Moon to Cost Another $20-30 Billion

Original Submission

With Gerstenmaier Gone, Decision to Fly NASA Astronauts May be More Contentious 23 comments

William Gerstenmaier may not have been not particularly well-known to the general public, but as the associate administrator for human spaceflight at NASA he carried considerable influence in the space community. So when he was effectively terminated from his position on July 10, it reverberated both throughout the domestic as well as the international spaceflight community.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, who moved Gerstenmaier aside because of ongoing delays with the Space Launch System rocket and a concern that the senior official was not moving ahead quickly enough with the Artemis Moon program, has said new leadership will be in place "soon."

This will be a critical hire for Bridenstine, as his new associate administrator for human spaceflight will have a number of important and difficult calls to make upon taking the job—and not just concerning the White House's efforts to return to the Moon by 2024. In particular, in the coming months, Gerstenmaier's replacement will be chairing meetings called "Flight Readiness Reviews" that will give a green light to the first crewed missions from US soil since 2011.

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12 2020, @10:16PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12 2020, @10:16PM (#957431)

    If SpaceX wants to be a part of NASA they have to play the Aerospace game. Someone does well for you at NASA you hire them when they want to retire.

    I don't like this practice, but I also want to see SpaceX dominate Boeing as its far better for our future.

    • (Score: 2) by barbara hudson on Wednesday February 12 2020, @11:10PM

      by barbara hudson (6443) <> on Wednesday February 12 2020, @11:10PM (#957458) Journal
      They spelled "lobbyist" wrong.
      SoylentNews is social media. Says so right in the slogan. Soylentnews is people, not tech.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday February 12 2020, @11:54PM

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Wednesday February 12 2020, @11:54PM (#957487) Journal

      There are competent people at NASA that can be hired.

      Everyone else on the planet is going to have to play SpaceX's game: lower prices with reusable rockets or die. SpaceX won't even need to make money from rocket launches if Starlink turns out to be a highly profitable venture.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Thursday February 13 2020, @03:43AM (2 children)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 13 2020, @03:43AM (#957585) Journal

    I read this with both excitement and fear.

    I'm excited that we're peeking over the edge of manned spaceflight from the US and the possibility of economies of scale driving the price down to where I can afford it.
    I'm afraid that bringing in too many legacy spaceflight people into the organization will change the culture and bend the arc away from Mars. I sincerely hope I'm overestimating that risk.