Today’s Tidbits: January 20, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: January 20, 2018

Here are our tidbits for January 20, 2018:  Rocket Lab puts three cubesats into orbit; NASA reveals mission patch for EM-1; NASA IG warns on SWOT.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Rocket Lab Puts Three Cubesats Into Orbit

After a series of delays over the past several weeks, Rocket Lab USA put three cubesats into orbit tonight (Eastern Standard Time) for the first time.  This was the second launch of its Electron launch vehicle (designated “Still Testing”) and the first to successfully put satellites into orbit — two Lemur-2 satellites for Spire and one Dove for Planet.  Electron is specifically designed for small satellites, with a nominal payload of 150 kilograms (maximum of 225 kg) to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

Rocket Lab launches from New Zealand, which is 18 hours ahead of EST, so it was January 21 local time at the launch site.  A video of the launch is posted on YouTube [].  Liftoff is at 14:57 in the video. Planet and Spire both tweeted their thanks.


NASA Reveals Mission Patch for EM-1

NASA has revealed the mission patch for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft.  The launch is scheduled for no earlier than December 2019.

According to NASA, the triangular shape represents the three main elements of NASA’s human deep space exploration program:  SLS, Orion, and the associated Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center, FL.  It shows SLS, with Orion on top, blasting off from Launch Complex 39-B (with its three lightning towers) at KSC.  The red and blue “trajectories” encompass the “white full Moon” and embrace NASA’s partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is building the Service Module for Orion.  Learn more at:  [].


NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission this week [].  It found that “technical issues with NASA-developed instruments and key components from international partners have increased the Project’s development cost and consumed schedule margin.”  Consequently, life-cycle costs may rise and the launch schedule may slip.

Diagram of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite. Credit: NASA/JPL.

NASA uses Joint Confidence Level (JCL) estimates to determine the likelihood that a project will meet its cost and schedule targets.  The OIG discovered, however, that for SWOT, the JCL omitted detailed integration tasks that represent “the final 10 percent of the Project’s development tasks.”  It also did not take into account risks associated with working with international partners or launch vehicle delivery.  Since it entered development in May 2016, “the Project’s cost and schedule performance has steadily degraded.”

The report says that project managers attributed the increased cost and schedule delays to a decision “to shift complex development tasks earlier than initially planned” with the expectation that everything would even out in later phases of the program.  The OIG did not find that compelling.

SWOT is currently scheduled to launch in 2021 to produce a global survey of Earth’s surface water, observe ocean surface topography, and measure how bodies of water change over time.  It is a cooperative project among NASA, the French space agency CNES, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).   NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is managing the project

NASA is developing the main instrument — the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn).  CNES is providing the spacecraft bus, the Radio Frequency Unit for KaRIn, the nadir altimeter, the Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) position determination system, satellite command and control, and integration and testing of payload components.  Canada is providing the Extended Interaction Klystron (EIK) component for KaRIN’s High Power Amplifier subsystem.  NASA’s portion is estimated to cost $755 million and the international partners together will spend approximately $400 million according to the OIG report.

The OIG said it made six  recommendations to NASA that essentially would provide a better assessment of where the project stands and challenges moving forward.  It said that NASA concurred with all of them.

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