Today’s Tidbits: September 25, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: September 25, 2019

Here are’s tidits for September 25, 2019:  Bridenstine in Japan; Northrop Grumman reorganizes; Rogozin mum on Soyuz hole; Space Safety Coalition established.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Bridenstine in Japan

While President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison were agreeing on Australian participation in the Artemis program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is visiting Japan to talk with Japanese space agency and government officials about what role that country might want to play.

Bridenstine has been tweeting photos all week of his meetings with Japanese officials and had a press conference with Hiroshi Yamakawa, the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), last night (Wednesday morning in Japan). Bridenstine was in Tokyo while Yamakawa was still at the Tanegashima launch site following the successful launch of JAXA’s HTV-8 cargo ship to the International Space Station on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) H-IIB rocket.

Bridenstine and Yamakawa earlier had signed a Joint Statement on Cooperation in Lunar Exploration.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sign a Joint Statement on Cooperation in Lunar Exploration Sept. 24, 2019, in Tokyo.  Credit: NASA

The agreement stops short of a commitment, but expresses the intention of the two countries to work together on “lunar exploration with a view towards Mars.”  Potential contributions by JAXA to Artemis include providing habitation and logistics capabilities for Gateway including use of a new version of the HTV spacecraft, HTV-X, and the new H3 rocket.  NASA is participating in Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (SLIM) robotic mission and is discussing cooperation in the planned JAXA-Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Lunar Polar Exploration robotic mission.  The full text of the agreement is posted on JAXA’s website. []

Bridenstine has met with Koichi Haguida, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), which oversees JAXA; Naokazu Takemoto, Minister of State for Space Policy; Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of the Space Policy Commission; 300 students at the University of Tokyo; members of the Japanese Diet (Parliament); two aides to Japanese Prime Minister Abe, Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary  and Hiroto Izumi, Special Advisor; and Katsuyuki Kawai, Minister of Justice.  Not to mention touring MHI’s rocket production facilities in Nagoya, meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan,  and getting briefed by Hiroaki Okuchi, Toyota President of Advanced R&D and Engineering Company, on a JAXA-Toyota plan for a pressurized lunar rover. Whew!

Northrop Grumman Reorganizes

Kathy J. Warden, Chairman, President and CEO, Northrop Grumman. Credit: Northrop Grumman

When Northrop Grumman acquired Orbital ATK last year, it essentially gave it a new name, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS), and incorporated it into the parent company more or less intact.  That was a temporary step.  It now has announced a complete reorganization of the company’s operating structure, effective on January 1, 2020. It will have four sectors: Aeronautics Systems, Defense Systems, Mission Systems, and Space Systems.

Space Systems will be led by Blake Larson. He is now in charge of NGIS, having been Chief Operating Officer of Orbital ATK, and, before that, president of the Aerospace Group at ATK. ATK merged with Orbital Sciences Corporation in 2015 to form Orbital ATK.

Northrop Grumman Chairman, President and CEO Kathy Warden said: “This new operating structure allows us to take full advantage of our company’s portfolio by aligning businesses that have shared markets, customers and technologies…. It will accelerate our ability to rapidly identify and deliver the technologies, products and services our customers need, and fuel our continued growth and execution.”

Among Northrop Grumman’s best known space programs are NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, DOD’s Space-Based InfraRed System (SBIRS), solid rocket boosters for the Space Launch System (SLS), the Antares rocket, and the Cygnus spacecraft.  Cygnus is currently used to take cargo to the International Space Station. Under a recent sole source award from NASA, a Cygnus will be modified to be the mini-habitation module for the lunar-orbiting Gateway for the Artemis program.

Northrop Grumman also manufactures commercial communication satellites, and its SpaceLogistics subsidiary is about to launch its first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) as soon as its Proton-M launch vehicle is ready to go. The launch has suffered a series of delays. Most recently it was scheduled for launch next Monday, but has been delayed again. The MEV-1 will dock with the 18-year old Intelsat 901 satellite, which has run out of fuel but otherwise is healthy.  Once docked, MEV-1 will provide propulsion and attitude control so it can be returned to service. This is the first time such a commercial servicing mission has been attempted. (That Proton-M launch also will take the Northrop Grumman-built Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite to orbit.)

Rogozin Mum on Soyuz Hole

The hole in Soyuz MS-09 as shown on a slide in a presentation to the NASA Advisory Council December 11, 2018.  The perfectly circular hole and scratch marks next to it strongly suggest a drill was used.

The head of Russia’s Space State Corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, says he knows exactly how that hole got in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, but he’s not telling.

To recap, on August 30. 2018, ground controllers noticed a slight pressure drop in the International Space Station (ISS).  It was traced to a small hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft at one of the docking ports.  The Russian ISS crew members quickly found and plugged the hole and a photograph pretty much told the tale that someone had inadvertently drilled a hole in the wrong place during construction of the spacecraft.

That did not satisfy Rogozin, though, who began a determined quest to pin down who did it and when, even implying that one of the ISS crew members might be responsible.  He went so far as to require the cosmonauts to take a daring spacewalk to look at the hole from the outside because it was in a portion of the Soyuz that detaches and burns up during reentry so there would be no other opportunity to study it.

That spacewalk was back in December 2018.  Everything has been pretty quiet since then. On September 18, however, Russia’s official news agency, TASS, reported that Rogozin told students at a St. Petersburg university that “it is clear to us what happened, but we won’t tell you.”  []

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle the next day that “They have not told me anything.”  He wants to know, and while he does not want anything to negatively impact the U.S.-Russian space relationship, “it is clearly not acceptable” to have holes in the ISS.  []

Bridenstine is on travel to Japan, but one would hope he is able to get an answer and share it with everyone. The ISS belongs to all of us.

Meanwhile, U.S. crews continue to launch to ISS on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.  The most recent launch was just today, in fact.  NASA’s Jessica Meir, Roscosmos’s Oleg Skripochka, and the first spaceflight participant from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, launched at 9:57 am ET and docked at 3:42 pm ET.

Six people are already aboard ISS, including NASA’s Christina Koch who took this incredible photo of the Soyuz on its way to orbit.

Tweet from NASA astronaut Christina Koch aboard the ISS: “What it looks like from @Space_Station when your best friend achieves her lifelong dream to go to space. Caught the second stage in progress! We can’t wait to welcome you onboard, crew of Soyuz 61!” @Astro_Christina

Space Safety Coalition Will Follow Space Sustainability Best Practices

A global group of space operators, space industry associations and stakeholders have formed the Space Safety Coalition (SSC).  []

Members agree to strive to abide by a voluntary set of Best Practices for the long term sustainability of space operations.  The formation of the group was announced in conjunction with the annual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (AMOS). Maui, Hawaii is the site of some of the most advanced telescopes for tracking objects in orbit. AMOS has become the premier annual event for those interested in ensuring that space does not become so cluttered with satellites and debris that it is unusable in the future.

So far SSC has 25 members ranging from operators of the largest satellite fleets, like Intelsat, Inmarsat, SES, Planet, and Iridium, to launch service providers like Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, to organizations like the Secure World Foundation that advocate for the secure, sustainable and peaceful use of space.

The Best Practices stem from work done over many years by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordinating Committee, the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the International Organization for Standardization, and the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems.  They are spelled out in more detail on the organization’s website, but the basic five are:

1. Spacecraft owners, operators and stakeholders should exchange information relevant to safety-of-flight and collision avoidance.
2. In selecting launch service providers, space operators should consider the sustainability of the space environment.
3. Mission and constellation designers and spacecraft operators should make space safety a priority when designing architectures and operations concepts for individual spacecraft, constellations and/or fleets of spacecraft.
4. Spacecraft designers and operators should design spacecraft that meet a list of nine best practices.
5. Spacecraft operators should adopt space operations concepts that enhance sustainability of the space environment.

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