Today’s Tidbits: June 21, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: June 21, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for June 21, 2018: Trump Administration looking at turning NASA Centers into FFRDCs, Air Force buys a Falcon Heavy for a classified launch, NASA releases draft BAA for Gateway element. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Trump Administration Looking at Turning NASA Centers into FFRDCs

The Trump Administration released a broad plan today to reorganize the government that it said would “serve as a cornerstone for a productive, bipartisan dialogue around making the Federal Government work for the 21st Century.”  It affects many agencies, including NASA.

Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century [] calls for an “accelerated process” to determine whether any of NASA’s civil service field centers “should be converted to, or host, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC).”

FFRDCs are government owned, contractor operated facilities.  The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has an excellent primer on FFRDCs for those new to the subject.  [ ]  CRS reports that there are 42 FFRDCs throughout the government sponsored by 12 agencies.  The Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DOD) have the most (16 and 10 respectively).

Although it is common to say that NASA has 10 field centers across the country, in fact, it has nine field centers and one FFRDC.  The nine field centers (Ames, Armstrong, Glenn, Goddard, Kennedy, Langley, Johnson, Marshall, and Stennis) are part of the federal government and staffed primarily by civil servants.  The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is an FFRDC operated for NASA under contract by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  It does not have to abide by government personnel regulations, for example, and thus can offer salaries that are more competitive with the private sector.  That also means, of course, that it may cost more to operate than a civil service center.

The question asked by today’s report is whether some of the civil service field centers should be converted into FFRDCs.

It is not a new question.  For example, in 2004, President George W. Bush established a commission chaired by former Air Force Secretary Pete Aldridge to make recommendations on how to implement the Vision for Space Exploration he had just announced.  Among them was to convert all the field centers into  FFRDCs.  Nothing came of it at the time.

Today’s report directs NASA to draw upon that and other past studies and provide an analysis to the White House just two months from now on whether converting NASA field centers “in whole or in part” to FFRDCs would further the Administration’s goals.  It is also to study whether it would be effective “to perform new programs and projects using an FFRDC structure.”

The key will be whether any perceived advantages will be outweighed by the cost, not just in dollars, but the disruption it would cause.

Air Force Buys a Falcon Heavy for a Classified Launch

The Air Force awarded a $130 million contract to SpaceX to launch a classified satellite in FY2020 — Air Force Space Command -52 (AFSPC-52).  The award is noteworthy because it is the first time the Air Force has bought a launch on SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy — which debuted in February — for a classified launch.

Falcon Heavy skeptics have been wondering what the market is for a rocket of that capability.  Now that it has an Air Force blessing to launch one of its crown jewel satellites, the picture may be rosier.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell sounded very happy in a statement released by the company.

“SpaceX is honored by the Air Force’s selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission…. On behalf of all of our employees, I want to thank the Air Force for certifying Falcon Heavy, awarding us this critically important mission, and for their trust and confidence in our company. SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) had a monopoly on national security space launches from 2006 when it was formed until SpaceX came along and brought competition back into the system.

NASA Releases Draft BAA for Gateway Element

Illustration of LOP-G (left) and an Orion spacecraft (right) near the Moon with the Earth in the background. Credit: NASA

NASA’s next step back to the Moon is building the inelegantly named Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), or just Gateway for short, that will be a way station in lunar orbit for astronauts traveling between the Earth and the Moon or the Earth and Mars.  NASA’s initial design calls for a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) that will be attached to a habitation module where Orion spacecraft will dock.

Today, NASA issued a draft Broad Area Announcement (BAA) soliciting industry input to determine if the PPE could be developed as a public-private partnership.   The input will feed into a final BAA for a Spaceflight Demonstration of a PPE.  The draft BAA calls for industry to propose “using their own approaches, practices and processes for design and manufacturing, to ensure a safe, reliable and quality product.”  An Industry Day will be held at Glenn Research Center on July 10. Responses to the draft BAA are due July 20.  Learn more at: []

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