Today’s Tidbits: January 11, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: January 11, 2018

Here are our tidbits for January 11, 2018:  NASA IG concludes CASIS is underperforming;  successful glide flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity; update on China’s Chang’e-4 lunar far-side lander. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

NASA Inspector General — CASIS is Underperforming

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report today assessing NASA’s management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). []

CASIS is a non-profit entity funded largely by and operating under a cooperative agreement with NASA to manage non-NASA research aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA’s research facilities on the ISS were designated as a National Laboratory in the 2005 NASA authorization act.  They are shared 50-50 by NASA and non-NASA users.  CASIS manages research activities by other government agencies or non-government entities.  NASA’s total funding of CASIS through 2024 is $196 million according to the report.

The OIG found that although CASIS awarded $21.7 million in grants between FY2013 and FY2016, “the organization has underperformed on tasks important to achieving NASA’s goal of building a commercial space economy in low Earth orbit.”

It measured CASIS’s performance in nine categories and concluded it met expectations in two: research pathways and STEM education.  In five categories, it partially met expectations: grant awards and project portfolio, recruitment of National Lab users, matching research projects and investors, Implementation Partners, and fundraising.  It did not meet expectations in the remaining two: utilization of crew time for National Lab research and outreach.  The OIG faulted NASA for failing to “actively oversee” CASIS and taking a “hands-off” approach instead.

It made seven recommendations to NASA, including that it “develop a performance strategy for CASIS through the end of the cooperative agreement in 2024, evaluate CASIS’s performance semiannually, and ensure performance plans include metrics and targets for all performance categories.”

Successful Glide Flight Test of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity

Virgin Galactic conducted another test flight today of its second SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, in the Mojave Desert.  This was the seventh high speed glide flight of VSS Unity and tested transonic flight performance, stability and control.

The spaceship, which is designed to take people on suborbital flights, is released from the VMS Eve, a WhiteKnightTwo aircraft (“mothership”) after attaining a specified altitude.  The spaceship is rocket-powered, but today’s test did not involve firing the rocket engines.  Instead, it glided to the ground after being released from VMS Eve, dropping 50,000 feet and reaching a speed of Mach 0.9.   In the photo below, VMS Eve is the large aircraft on the right; VSS Unity is the small craft to the left and below.

Virgin Galactic is owned by Richard Branson.  The goal is to take passengers on rides to space, although those plans have been delayed year after year.  A 2014 accident destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo spaceship and killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury.

Branson tweeted today that he hopes today’s glide flight will be the last for VSS Unity.  Powered flight tests presumably will be next.

Chang-e 4 Update

Andrew Jones of posted an update on China’s progress towards launching a spacecraft, Chang’e-4, to make a soft landing on the far side of the Moon. []

China’s Yutu rover on the lunar surface. Credit: tweet from @XHNews, December 22, 2013.

Although many spacecraft, including six U.S. Apollo crews, have landed on the near side of the Moon that always faces Earth, and many photographs have been taken of the far side, no spacecraft has landed there yet.  Chang’e-4, built as a backup to Chang’e-3, would be the first.  Chang’e-3 successfully landed on the near side in 2013 and deployed the Yutu rover.

Jones reports that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said yesterday that mechanical testing of the Chang’e-4 lander and rover is underway in preparation for launch in November or December of this year.  The candidate landing sites are in the South Pole Aitken Basin, which is of considerable scientific interest.  Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia are participating in the mission according to the report.

Since the far side of the Moon is always pointed away from Earth, a communications relay satellite is needed to enable communications between the spacecraft and ground controllers.  It will be placed at the L2 Lagrange point.  Jones expects that launch in May or June.

Recently Published on 


User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.